TRENTON – It was a pre-taped presentation shot before an audience of empty chairs due to the coronavirus pandemic but Governor Phil Murphy’s State of the State Address was largely optimistic and focused on a variety of topics.
The governor reviewed the devastating impact of the health crisis, tax incentives planned for this year, an ambitious infrastructure plan, racial equity, reproductive rights protection for women and how legalized recreational marijuana use would be implemented.
Noting the sagas involved in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy said, “they are stories that show our grit and reveal our heart. They echo the pain of 2020 and they preview the hope of 2021.”
He said they are tied in a common thread. “We are all in this together. Although deeply wounded we enter 2021 tougher than ever, wiser than before and ready to move forward together. New Jersey was one of the earliest and hardest hit states, that our communities of color have been disproportionally impacted and that we are currently battling a second wave which is just as brutal as the first.”
Governor Murphy that as the state has for nearly a year, “we face the challenge head on…to make the right decision to public health and the vitality of our families. We weigh every pro and con to ensure that not only is every decision effective but equitable.”
He said that in typical Jersey style “we are leveling with each other and making sure that no one is left behind. We are facing this pandemic with a full scale counter attack. We are making the fight against COVID-19 one that engages every New Jerseyan.”
The governor commented that three years ago he took office pledging to rebuild the state “the middle out and bottom up and to change the way Trenton works not simply for the sake of change but for the sake of people to put middle class and working-class families first.”
He said decisions such as raising the minimum wage, passing earned sick leave and expanding family medical leave and “making those at the very top pay their fair share with a millionaires tax while at the same time cutting taxes for working families with either a larger income tax credit or a direct rebate or both.”
Governor Murphy listed off what he said were accomplishments made in the state. They included protecting health care from attacks from Washington, reducing premiums for hundreds of thousands of state residents and expanding pre-kindergarten education.
He also noted that making investments in public education and stabilizing property taxes along with making community college tuition free and expanding job training programs were “accomplishments that help people across our state.”
Governor Murphy credited State Senate President Steve Sweeny and “colleagues on both sides of the aisle” for achieving those accomplishments. “Together we will continue moving forward, grounded in our shared everyday reality yet propelled by our optimism about tomorrow.”
He added that there was hope with the arrival of safe, approved vaccines to fend off the coronavirus and noted the efforts of the State Health Department. “Despite many obstacles we have in place a plan to vaccinate every willing New Jerseyian and hundreds of thousands have already rolled up their sleeves. Six vaccine mega-sites are opening across the state.”
“We will be able to see our economy recover and flourish. You have heard me say public health causes economic health. Our commitment to this ideal is unwavering,” the governor added. “The pandemic has slammed small businesses across America so our economic focus has been squarely where it should be on helping our hard-hit small businesses and encouraging new ones to grow.”
The governor said he was excited about a new business and job creating recovery plan that he recently signed. He said it was “a package that I was proud to work on alongside numerous lawmakers, progressive advocates, private sector leaders, union leaders and indeed small business owners.”
“The old ways worked for too few,” the governor said regarding corporate tax incentive programs. “They left too many behind so we set out to create a new system that is transparent and fair which focuses not on huge corporations but on job-creating small businesses and innovative start-ups.”
An inspector general would be established to “safeguard every penny of taxpayer money,” the governor added regarding the plan. He said brownfields and long neglected areas into “new walkable and inviting communities.”
The governor said that through the plan the state sought to “create the state’s first historic preservation tax credit so our future can be rebuilt by repurposing the buildings that made us an economic power in the first place.”
“This is what change looks like. This is what putting the people ahead of the powerful looks like. This is protecting today and planning for tomorrow looks like. The current economic crisis is like something we haven’t faced since the Great Depression of 90 years ago,” the governor added.
“New Jersey now has a new model that sets the standard for inclusive and statewide economic growth and job creation, growth powered by women, minorities and lesser-known smaller businesses and by innovative entrepreneurs,” Governor Murphy said.
He also praised NJ Transit saying it was safer and more accountable noting that the state beat the deadline on federally mandated train safety technology “completing 11 years’ worth of work in less than three.”
Governor Murphy said many new union jobs would be created from the infrastructure upgrades and was anxious to see with federal partnership new tunnels being built under the Hudson River.
The governor said his administration was committed to protecting school funding. He also denounced efforts by high ranking officials who would diminish democratic institutions “to try and use baseless conspiracy theories into court challenges and to silent the voices and throw out the votes of many Americans.”
“We were all shocked to witness a mob incited and supported by politicians at the highest levels of government shamefully try to invalidate the votes of 158 million Americans through insurrection,” Murphy added.
He concluded saying “better days are coming. While the calendar has changed our mission has not. Out of shared pain we forged a shared purpose and because of all here in New Jersey, 2021 can be the year when dreams can once again be possible and the wind is at our back.”