NEW JERSEY — On a day that saw a new-look state legislature take office and a new public health emergency declared in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy delivered his fifth State of the State address Tuesday night.
And for the second consecutive year, Murphy spoke in an empty theater as opposed to the statehouse due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” Murphy said. “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.”
But those comments come hours after New Jersey seemingly took a step back, as Murphy declared another public health emergency in New Jersey, citing the extremely high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases. Read more here: NJ Public Health Emergency Extended To Fight ‘Omicron Tsunami’
“In your day-to-day lives, this step won’t bring any changes,” Murphy said. “But it is vital to ensuring our continued and coordinated response, so we can move forward and put COVID behind us.
“We are seeing new case counts that dwarf anything we’d seen to this point – upwards of four times as many New Jerseyans have COVID today than did one year ago. Thirty thousand new cases a day. More new cases day-to-day than even at the pandemic’s start. Even the knowledge that illness from Omicron can be less severe is of little solace, as these tremendous numbers of cases – even with the lower percentage chance of hospitalization that comes with them – mean that we have more people in our hospitals today than at any point since the spring of 2020. And it means that more of our fellow New Jerseyans are leaving us all too soon. We are all in this together. And we must keep moving forward together.”
But Murphy described the overall State of the State as “resilient and ready to keep moving forward.”
“We have more accessible and affordable health care and childcare, stronger public schools, and more affordable higher education,” Murphy said. “Our economy is growing again. Our state is growing again. The reality is this – we’re making New Jersey 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. The moving vans are driving into New Jersey.”
According to the U.S. Census numbers, New Jersey’s population grew about 7.4 percent.
Here are some key takeaways from Tuesday night’s State of the State Address:
Murphy said his administration has cut taxes for the middle class, working families and seniors, and promised the upcoming state budget wouldn’t include a tax increase. It repeated a promise Murphy made on the campaign trail, just a few weeks before Murphy is set to introduce the next budget. Last year’s $46 billion budget also came with no tax increase. Read more here: 8 Points In Gov. Murphy’s 2021 NJ Budget Address That Affect You
He pointed to the expansion of the Senior Freeze Program, the modernization of the Homestead Property Tax Rebate, tax rebates of up to $500 to nearly 700,000 middle-class families, property tax deductions for veterans and service-members and the child tax credit.
He also said New Jersey residents are getting back to work after the pandemic put a pause on low levels of unemployment.
“Many of our residents are getting back to work because of our direct and critical investments in tens of thousands of small businesses – $800 million for retail stores, restaurants, arts and cultural institutions, childcare providers, and more – to ensure their survival through some very dark times,” Murphy said. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we’re keeping that backbone strong.”
In New Jersey, he said progress has been made in the tech industry, the trade industry, green energy and the burgeoning cannabis industry. He also pointed to the increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage, from $8.65 an hour to a path to $15 an hour. Read more here: NJ Minimum Wage Increases To $13 For Some Workers On New Year’s
“Moreover, we are seeing wages increasing across the state and are now trending higher than before the pandemic,” Murphy said. “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 opportunity for more New Jersey families.”
He said New Jersey residents’ pension funds are doing “better than ever” because his administration made the first full pension payment in 25 years and cut $36 billion from the projected long-term costs of providing health care to the state’s retired public employees.
He said one reason people are moving into New Jersey because of a highly-trained workforce and the No. 1 schools in the country. Read more here: NJ Top Education State In Latest U.S. News Ranking
“Education is a critical piece of this puzzle. Our best-in-the-nation public education system and world-class colleges and universities turn out the best-trained and best-educated workforce in America,” Murphy said. “Businesses that come here do so because they know we have a nearly bottomless well of talent from which they can draw.”
He pointed to a $3 billion investment in public schools, including a $1.5 billion investment in pre-K through 12 education the year he took office.
“We’ve put a college education within reach with our tuition-free community college program,” Murphy said. “And we invested in our child-care providers to make this critical service more accessible for families getting back to work.”
Before the health pandemic was an issue nationally, NJ TRANSIT was the Garden State’s biggest issue, but Murphy said his administration has both cut fares and improved safety.
“When we took office, NJ TRANSIT riders had suffered through eight years that saw them paying 36 percent more in fares but receiving less reliable services in return,” Murphy said. “Rider safety, once a backburner issue, has been restored to the forefront. New locomotives and passenger cars, and newer and cleaner-running buses, are not only finally on order but being delivered and put into service. The shortages of train engineers and bus operators that led to canceled routes have been back-filled, giving NJ TRANSIT the roster it needs to keep lines running – and on-time performance is up and cancellations and delays are down. And we did it without asking customers to pay one penny more in fares for four straight years.”
Murphy touted what his administration has done as far as abortion and gun laws are concerned, and spoke about the progress New Jersey has made against the opioid pandemic.
“In that, we replaced stigma with compassion to close gaps in treatment, to expand access and use of life-saving medicines like Naloxone, and to support and expand the work of harm reduction centers, among so much more,” Murphy said of the battle against opioids. “While we are proud of the progress we are making, this critical work is far from done and will continue. We continue to lose too many residents to the grip of opioid misuse.
“I thank and congratulate the Legislature on passing and sending to my desk a bill 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,” Murphy 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.”
He urged the legislature to take up gun reforms, saying, “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.”
But with seven new Republicans being sworn into office on Tuesday and the Democratic majority getting smaller, that might be a tougher road than previously expected.
“We hold out our hands in partnership and goodwill to the new Republican leaders, Senator Steve Oroho and Assemblyman John DiMaio,” Murphy said. “The people of New Jersey elected each of us in public office for a single purpose – to get things done. 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.’”
Reaction came in from all sides once the speech was finished.
“In the Assembly, we share the Governor’s vision to build on the progress we’ve made moving New Jersey forward these past four years,” Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said. “Recommitting ourselves to lifting up our working middle-class families, making New Jersey more affordable, and ensuring access to opportunity, we stand ready to advance an agenda that puts emphasis on the daily challenges people in our state are facing. With good collaborative dialogue and a spirit of cooperation, I am confident we will continue to prioritize the issues that matter deeply, socially and economically, to the residents of New Jersey.”
But Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who challenged Murphy in November’s gubernatorial election, disputed Murphy’s positive outlook.
“Gov. Murphy’s State of the State Address begs the question: what state is this guy living in,” Ciattarelli said on Twitter. “More than 1/3 of all small businesses closed forever. Highest taxes in the nation. $53M settlement for the families of veterans needlessly lost to COVID on his watch. We may all be in this together, but Gov. Murphy clearly isn’t here with us.”
“By consistently increasing funding for public education, he’s opened new doors of opportunity for New Jersey’s students while making our state more affordable for property taxpayers. That wise investment will pay off for generations to come,” representatives from the New Jersey Education Association said in a joint statement. “We also thank Gov. Murphy for his steadfast commitment to the health and safety of students and staff. We share his eager anticipation for that day when ‘our children’s smiles can once again light up hallways and classrooms’ and we commend him for taking wise steps now to make that happen sooner than later.”
“Governor Murphy gave an accurate description of the ‘state of the state’ and the need to do much more so prosperity is shared by all,” New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) Interim President Jon Shure said. “The past four years proved that government need not sacrifice low- and moderate-income families at the expense of economic growth — because the two go hand in hand. Now, state government must remain as ‘boldly progressive’ as the Governor proclaimed it to be again today. Affordability for all is important — and New Jersey can’t afford to go backward.”
This article originally appeared on the Gloucester Township Patch