In an address that looked back on the success of his first term and the goals of his second, Gov. Phil Murphy delivered the annual State of the State Address on the day State Senators and Assembly members were sworn in for a new term.
Pretaped in an empty War Memorial Theater in Trenton, Murphy’s 40 minute speech focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, making New Jersey affordable and pledging to work with all lawmakers to make that happen.
Murphy’s stewardship of the state has been largely shaped by the coronavirus pandemic and he proclaimed that “the state of our state is resilient and ready to keep moving forward. Because this is who we are as New Jerseyans. We believe in ourselves and we believe in each other. And we know nothing is beyond our reach because nothing is beyond our willingness to work hard.”
The governor said he was “extraordinarily honored and humbled” in being re-elected for a second term and that he was “excited by the possibilities that lay ahead for our state.”
Murphy joked that “over the next two months, and, indeed, the next four years, we’re going to see a lot of each other. I will do my best to not wear out my welcome.”
He focused on the coronavirus at the beginning of his speech, just an hour after restoring his power’s to deal with the public health emergency. The governor acknowledged that “we’re all frustrated by this pandemic. We’re all tired of it getting in the way of everything we do. We’re all ready to get on with our lives. And I am committed to seeing us get there.”
COVID-19 Public Emergency
“Our state remains on a war footing against a virus that has now taken on a form that is overwhelming our collective psyche as it tests our state,” he said. “Yet, as inconvenient as life is for so many of us, it pales in comparison to what some have been through. We will never forget the loss that has hit so many of our neighbors. And we will forever honor the tremendous hard work and dedication of all of the women and men working on the front lines—especially the doctors, nurses, and staff across our entire healthcare system.”
“Hard work, even in the face of great challenge, does not deter us as New Jerseyans. Hard work, especially in the face of great challenge, defines us.”
Murphy said the re-declaring a Public Health Emergency was to ensure New Jersey keeps moving forward and that as a state keep using all the tool available to beat back Omicron surge.
Beacon in COVID Fight
“In your day-to-day lives, this step won’t bring any changes. But it is vital to ensuring our continued and coordinated response so we (keep) our schools, businesses, and economy open, and allows us to get back to a real and lasting sense of normal,” he said. “We are all in this together. And we must keep moving forward together.”
Murphy noted that millions of New Jerseyans have done the right things in getting vaccinated and following health protocols. He contrasted that with the crises bringing out the worst in people.
“The selfishness and self-centeredness. The public shaming and finger-pointing. The deliberate misinformation. We’ve seen some of this in New Jersey, but, to be sure, it’s a small minority,” he said. “Our state has become a beacon of what’s possible when we rise to face a challenge together with fearless optimism, and not use it to cynically drive people apart. And if we hold together to shine bright just a little longer, we will disperse the dark cloud of COVID.”
First Term Accomplishments
Murphy then pivoted to his record over the last four years in comparison to what he faced when he was first elected.
“We inherited a state that worked for too few and which was at a crossroads. We chose to move the state in a new direction. We are moving New Jersey forward,” he said. “We’ve cut taxes for our middle-class and working families, and our seniors, fourteen times.”
The Democratic governor noted that the state’s economy is growing again after being set back by the pandemic.
“Across the nine years before I took office, New Jersey’s economic growth ranked 47th among all states. Today, we rank fourth. From 47th to fourth,” he said. “That’s real progress despite all we’ve been through and all we still face.
No New Taxes
The governor committed that the state budget he proposed “in a few weeks won’t raise taxes” and pledged to continue the fight to lower property taxes for all New Jerseyans.
“We’re making more progress against property taxes than any administration before us,” he said. “Through the policies we’ve put in place, and the community investments we’ve made, our administration has slowed the rate of property tax growth more than any of the previous four administrations—a record that includes four of the lowest year-over-year increases in property taxes on record.”
“We will continue to focus on making New Jersey more affordable for everyone.”
Murphy promoted New Jersey as the place where businesses want to locate and families want to live.
“The Census counts it in black-and-white – while some states in our region lost population, New Jersey grew,” he stated. “The moving vans are driving into New Jersey.”
Ready for Economy to Grow Again
Murphy touted that before the pandemic, the state achieved the lowest sustained levels of unemployment since the state began keeping records of unemployment.
“The pandemic put some of this progress on pause but, every day, more New Jerseyans are now getting back to work in jobs that pay better, have better benefits, and can lead them to a better career,” he said. “Because of the hard work we’ve already put in to build a more resilient and more affordable New Jersey, we start the next four years of our journey together in a better place.”
The governor remarked New Jerseyans are getting back to work because of the $800 million in direct and critical investments in tens of thousands of small businesses to ensure their survival through some very dark times.
Small Business Focus
He cited residents getting jobs in the new high-tech and innovative industries—finding work in the burgeoning green energy industry, the growing fintech sector, on movie and television production sets, in the online gaming and sports-betting space, the life sciences and the cannabis industry—as the future of the state.
“New businesses and jobs are being created because we restored common sense and fairness to our system of tax incentives. Some are coming because we’re not afraid to run with new ideas for attracting businesses,” he stated. “Others, however, are coming to New Jersey because they know that right here is where they will find the best-trained workforce in the most-advantageous location, with the best public schools in America for their employees.“
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we’re keeping that backbone strong.”
Murphy noted businesses are attracted to New Jersey for its top performing schools, knowing “we have a nearly bottomless well of talent from which they can draw.”
“We are not just restoring, but creating, real opportunity for our young people to stay here and start a career to support a family,” he said. “Opportunity for those currently in the workforce to build a new career—for entrepreneurs to maximize their investment and prosper—and opportunity to make New Jersey the launchpad for the next great idea and the home of the next generation.”
Reason to Live in the Garden State
The governor proclaimed that New Jersey is ranked as the best state in which to live for safe communities, education system, health care, and quality of life.
“We are the number one state in America to raise a family. We are a model that others now seek to emulate,” he said “We have achieved these accomplishments during the most difficult of times and against some of the darkest of backdrops. And because we all know that these times are not yet over, neither is the work we are prepared to undertake in this new year.”
He then listed a number of progressive issues that Murphy sees the state being a national leader—attempts to reduce gun violence, reproductive freedom, climate change, child care, repairing a broken criminal justice system and securing the dignity of LGBTQIA+ communities.
Reducing Prescription Drug Costs
As for new initiatives, Murphy said he will send the Legislature a plan to address prescription-drug affordability that would lower costs and save families hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year.
“This effort will be centered on making pricing across the entire supply chain more transparent, so we can see what drives drug prices higher, and so we can lower them,” he said. “Containing and lowering health care and prescription drug costs isn’t just good for your family’s health and bottom line, it’s also good for our state’s.”
Murphy additionally highlighted investment in education, as “four years ago, our schools and property taxpayers were reeling after eight years of diminished investment. We got to work investing in our communities by investing in our public schools, from pre-K all the way through to graduation,”
“We invested $3 billion more in our public schools across our first four years than the prior administration did across its last four. This year alone, we are investing $1.5 billion more in pre-K-through-12 education than in the year I took office. Strong public schools make communities more attractive for families looking to move to New Jersey.”
Them Murphy stated that there is “unfinished business from 2021 to attend to” and announced that he would sign a bill this week that will secure a woman’s access to reproductive care and her right to choose into state law.
“These decisions must be kept between a woman and her doctor, period,” he said. “I will sign this into law this week. And I am especially proud that we are getting this done before the United States Supreme Court renders its ruling challenging Roe v Wade, which it is poised to overturn.”
Another national issue he will focus on is taking up the next phase of commonsense and comprehensive gun-safety reforms.
“We cannot go another year without closing dangerous loopholes, requiring safety education for would-be gun buyers, giving law enforcement new tools to go after criminals, and banning super-high-caliber weapons which have no place in the woods for hunting, let alone on our streets,” Murphy opined.
More Affordable State
The governor said that wages are increasing across the state and are now trending higher than before the pandemic.
“This means that as our people get back to work, they are getting back to jobs that pay better. That is yet another way we are building opportunities for more New Jersey families,” he said.
Murphy said he will continue to address remedies to reduce property taxes, offering that school funding from the state is a form of property tax relief.
“We are doing this not just because our kids deserve it but because our property taxpayers do, too,” he said. “Every single one of these dollars we as a state have invested is a dollar kept in the pockets of property taxpayers – whether it be state aid supporting our students and educators in their classrooms or construction aid to build or renovate schools to serve a 21st century education.”
He listed other actions that lowering the property tax bill for New Jerseyans, including expanded eligibility of older homeowners for the Senior Freeze program, modernizing the Homestead Property Tax Rebate, extending property tax deductions for veterans and service-members and made in-state tuition payments and investments in college savings plans tax deductible.
“Each of these steps is making our state more affordable and giving middle-class and working families, and seniors, the tax breaks you all deserve,” the governor said.
Murphy was proud of the progress in restoring responsible leadership to the state’s finances, including making the first full payment into the state’s public pension funds in 25 years and reining-in the cost of public employee and retiree health benefits while preserving high-quality care.
“We’ve saved tomorrow’s taxpayers billions of dollars by living up to our obligation today, he said. “And the size of state government itself is smaller today than it was when we took office.”
Murphy offered that four years ago, his administration set out to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey that would work for every family and in every community, becoming a more affordable and more responsive New Jersey.
“Well, we are who we said we’d be – boldly progressive, but also pragmatic,” he said “And because of this, we are accomplishing both. Note that I say ‘accomplishing,’ not ‘accomplished.’ We still have much work to do. We are still clearing away the long-fallen brush that has blocked the path to opportunity for too many New Jerseyans.”
Over the next four years, he said “our task now is to take the next giant leap forward” to turn the positive changes his administration’s made in state laws into long-lasting and tangible progress for working families and seniors.
Working With Lawmakers
“The people of New Jersey elected each of us in public office for a single purpose – to get things done.”
Murphy pledged to work with State Senate and Assembly leaders, as “for all of us, the politicking ends and the governing begins. That’s true patriotism. Up until Nov. 2, we wore either a letter “D” or “R” after our name. But now is the time to take these letters off. Now is the time to seek, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “not the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer’.”
“Let’s work together in good faith and with common purpose. This doesn’t mean we won’t or even can’t disagree. But it should mean that “compromise” and “common sense” are not dirty words. The response to an idea with which we disagree shouldn’t be “no, period,” but rather, “no, but,” meaning an openness to cooperation and negotiation … to a give-and-take, not a take-it-or-leave-it.
Murphy ended his address stating “Opportunity, affordability, and fairness must be linked. One without the others is hollow. But all of them together are an unstoppable force for a brighter future and proof that the American Dream lives in New Jersey. Let’s pledge to put the needs of every New Jerseyan before the wants of our party or any single person in it. Let’s stop shouting down each other and get back to talking with each other.”
“Let’s grab that more affordable New Jersey, a New Jersey rich with opportunity for all willing to work hard, which is just ahead of us.”