Gov. Phil Murphy made his first major public appearance since narrowly winning reelection, defending his actions on the economy, the cost of living, the pandemic and taxes but offering no details on his next term or lame duck priorities.
“Make no doubt, this state is moving forward. I am committed to keep it pointed in this direction,” Murphy said at a luncheon on the third day of the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City. His remarks included at least 13 references to taxes.
“We have had – and not even arguably – the most successful efforts to date in providing real property tax relief to our residents,” the governor said.
“This is not abstract,” he continued. “The budgets our administration has enacted have contributed to three of the lowest year-over-year increases in property taxes on record and the slowest rate of property tax increases of any administration since the start of the millennium.”
In his March 2020 budget address, Murphy claimed that no governor in New Jersey history had done more to bring down property taxes. He did so again during his Thursday remarks.
“[O]ver our first term, we’ve invested more in property tax relief than in any other term in state history,” the governor said.
But other figures have arguably made significant contributions in that endeavor: Republican Gov. Chris Christie in enacting a 2% cap on local tax increases and Democratic Gov. Brendan Bryne enacted the income tax.
On the economy, Murphy cited the relocation of fintech giant Fiserv to Berkeley Heights — which state officials said would add 2,000 jobs — the HAX accelerator in Newark with a potential 2,500 jobs, Netflix’s interest in using the old Fort Monmouth army base as a film and TV production facility and the general growth of the film and TV industry.
“We have an incentive program that is focused on early-stage startup businesses, on innovation, and on entrepreneurship,” Murphy said. “We know how local government thrives on innovation and entrepreneurship, too. That’s one reason we fought so hard for this new focus – to ensure that our entire state was pointed in the same direction.
But he offered little on how to build the state economy and improve the business climate in his second term. “He never really defined his economic priorities,” Tom Bracken, CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview earlier this month. “The economy hasn’t been given as much attention.”
Many members of Murphy’s party agree. Some of the top New Jersey Democrats at a Nov. 17 panel conceded that state leaders must to do more to address affordability, taxes and the cost of living given the election results.
That was, until now, mostly a viewpoint held by Republican lawmakers – that the state was not doing enough to focus on affordability.
“I think no matter what stripe you wear, the electorate told us that affordability and also efficiency of government is essential, and things we need to be mindful of as state legislators,” Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th District, said the panel discussion.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, agreed, saying that affordability needs to be “at the top” of what lawmakers focus on, meaning significant tax reform and “working for a plan that recognizes those shared middle class values that we champion all the time.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, who was narrowly defeated by Republican Ed Durr, did not indicate with reporters earlier in the day whether his lame duck efforts would focus on affordability and taxes, like Singleton and Coughlin said.
“For 12 years and prior to that, all I’ve talked about was affordability,” Sweeney said.