Gov. Phil Murphy’s second annual State of the State address on Jan. 14 struck a business-as-usual tone with many of those within the statewide business community.
The exception, of course, was Murphy’s promise to overhaul the “culture” in Trenton, which he said prioritized “well-connected and entrenched special interests” and a culture of “misogyny” that allowed for widely pervasive sexual harassment against women in New Jersey politics.
This ethics reform attempt would include plans to “strengthen financial disclosures, tighten pay-to-play requirements, expand transparency and increase awareness to the goings-on in Trenton.”
But outside of this new political sticking point, which could set the tone for the next year, Murphy used his annual address to renew a push for the familiar priorities of his twice-defeated millionaire’s tax, and a deal on tax incentives that would include an overall program cap.
Murphy also touted administration milestones and other attempted improvements to the state’s beleaguered New Jersey Transit agency and delved into social justice priories from the past two years: marijuana expungement, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and nearly $10 million of Title X funding for Planned Parenthood.
He highlighted environmental protection efforts, such as an energy master plan to be unveiled in the near future mapping out how the state can produce 100 percent clean energy by 2050, and calling for the approval of a November ballot question that would allow the state to borrow $500 million for lead remediation, a price tag that environmentalists like New Jersey Future and the New Jersey Sierra Club have indicated could be in the billions of dollars.
The governor also unveiled plans for a task force that will scrutinize the “wealth disparity” experienced by “Black and Latino” state residents.
Still, business groups accused the governor of failing to address any issues around affordability, an oft-used criticism against most state elected officials and the biggest issue in New Jersey, they said.
“The governor did not address the single largest issue preventing us from generating the ‘stronger’ economy we all want – New Jersey’s affordability and competitiveness,” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken said in a Tuesday statement.
“While we can all support the concept of a ‘fairer and stronger’ economy, the social programs that comprise the ‘fairer’ economy must be paid for by the economic progress of a stronger business climate,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the Governor neglected to address the state’s affordability crisis, which makes a business’s ability to succeed in N.J. next to impossible, and made a renewed call for a millionaire’s tax, which directly impacts residents and small businesses alike,” said CCSNJ President and Chief Executive Officer Christina Renna.
And Republican lawmakers, who have been highly critical of Murphy’s progressive priority list, also voiced the sentiment.
“Time is up. The ball’s in your court. Take responsibility and tell people why they shouldn’t move. Tell people why this is the place you should bring your business. Give us a reason why you should not move to Florida. Tell us what you’re going to do to lower the cost of living in the state,” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-21st District, said at a press conference following the address.
The Legislature’s two most powerful elected officials – Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District – left the Assembly chamber right after Murphy’s address and were not available for comment.
Sweeney has been staunchly opposed to the millionaire’s tax and vowed to block its passage, and his stance is not likely to change.
But they too, at each’s keynote address at their respective chamber’s reorganization sessions earlier in the day, agreed on several of Murphy’s priorities, with Sweeney highlighting lead remediation and improvements to NJ Transit.
In the address, Murphy also unveiled a new program, simply called Jobs NJ, to ensure the state’s workforce is prepared, and employable, in the event of another economic recession down the road.
Both the NJBIA and New Jersey Chamber were optimistic about that proposal, and NJBIA President and CEO Michelle Siekerka said it aligned with the group’s efforts on workforce development.
Meanwhile, his health care watchdog group, called the Office of Health Care Accountability and Transparency, garnered the support of the Medical Society of New Jersey, as well as Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District, who chairs the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.