TRENTON — Atlantic City got a rare positive mention from the governor during his State of the State address Tuesday, prompting bipartisan applause from the entire Legislature and a standing ovation for the executive overseeing New Jersey’s efforts.
Gov. Phil Murphy singled out Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and the state Department of Community Affairs for their work in Atlantic City during his annual address in the Assembly chambers.
Murphy’s praise came on the heels of the second credit upgrade for the city in the past three months and on the same day the casino industry’s year-end revenue results showed a fourth consecutive year of increases.
TRENTON — Both of the 1st Legislative District’s new Republican representatives were humbled…
The governor said the rating upgrades were “proof that our collaborative and cooperative approach to turning Atlantic City around is the right path to take.”
“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Lt. Gov. Oliver, and her team at the Department of Community Affairs, for this progress,” Murphy said.
While the accomplishments of the Murphy administration in Atlantic City are not as tangible as the settling of multimillion-dollar casino tax appeals or the significant reduction in city employees under Gov. Chris Christie, the state has assisted in securing funding for the construction of a supermarket and an AtlantiCare health park, expanded internship opportunities for youth and programs for seniors, and crafted two municipal budgets without a tax increase. The state’s oversight was credited as a primary factor in the most recent bond rating upgrade from Moody’s Investment Services this month.
“For the governor to recognize the tremendous strides that we’ve made here in the City of Atlantic City and for us to be a part of the State of the State address speaks volumes,” said Mayor Marty Small Sr., who watched Murphy give his speech in Trenton.
Deputy DCA Commissioner Rob Long said the agency is following the lead of Murphy and Oliver, who oversees the department.
“It’s obviously paid some good dividends so far,” Long said after the governor’s speech. “There’s still plenty of work to do, and we’re ready to keep doing it.”
In the coming year, the city and state must grapple with the impact of a citywide property revaluation that is likely to raise rates for some taxpayers. Additionally, since the state assumed full control of Atlantic City, the overall debt has increased nearly 3½ times what it was when Trenton took over, leaving the city with mounting annual debt service payments.
Further adding to the issues that must be addressed, public safety workers in the city say they still feel unsupported and are unclear about basic operating procedures in the absence of civil service.
Small said he and the city’s leadership will continue to work with the state to find workable solutions to those problems.
Elsewhere in his State of the State speech, Murphy defended his progressive policies and promised again to raise taxes on the rich.
He also called on lawmakers to respond to citizens’ “rightful cynicism” about government with greater transparency.
“Even as the new year unfolds, our mission does not change,” Murphy said.
He also promised long-term plans for transit, as well as new offices for health care transparency and a task force to study wealth disparity. He said he is launching an initiative called Jobs NJ aimed at helping workers and employers match up.
Murphy campaigned on boosting funding at NJ Transit and repairing its badly tarnished image and on Tuesday doubled down on a promise to fix the agency.
The current year’s budget increased the state’s subsidy to the agency by 50% over the previous year’s.
The biggest change in store appears to be a promise to conduct a 10-year strategic plan at the agency as well as a five-year capital plan.
Murphy expressed disbelief at what he said was a lack of longterm planning at the agency, which runs trains and buses statewide.
“These aren’t just ‘new’ plans — it’s actually the first time these have ever been done,” he said.
Republicans, in the minority in state government, panned the speech. GOP state Chairman Doug Steinhardt said Democrats only argue over how much to raise taxes.
“New Jersey is in the throes of an affordability crisis, and Trenton Democrats are tone deaf to its residents’ needs,” he said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.