Governors customarily celebrate their successes of the past year in their State of the State address that begins the next. Gov. Phil Murphy pointed to reducing health care costs for state workers, enacting a $15 minimum wage and strengthening New Jersey’s already stringent gun laws.
Atlantic City was also on the highlights list.
Murphy said his administration’s “collaborative and cooperative approach to turning Atlantic City around is the right approach,” and offered as proof a couple of upgrades in the city’s credit rating the past few months. The day of his speech, state and corporate figures showed the resort’s casino industry is thriving.
Murphy in particular credited his lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver, and her team at the state Department of Community Affairs for its Atlantic City oversight. That prompted a bipartisan standing ovation from his audience of legislators.
In the absence of specific new policy goals for the state, Murphy laid out several general directions for his administration. Among them are a new job-training effort, a task force on wealth disparity, and an office to encourage affordability and transparency in health care.
He also climbed aboard the movement by legislators to reduce harassment, sexual assault and misogyny in New Jersey politics, pledging ethics reforms in the coming weeks to counter “the pernicious sexism and abuse that still creeps across these hallways, at conferences and in meeting rooms.” Lawmakers responded that his use of nondisclosure agreements during his campaign and transition into office contributed to silencing women about their experiences.
Murphy’s main goal still seemed to be putting a tax surcharge on residents earning a million dollars a year or more.
Even though state spending has increased by $2.6 billion under Murphy, he said he wanted the tax increase “so we can ease the property tax burden on millions of middle-class families and seniors.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has twice denied Murphy his so-called millionaire’s tax, said it wouldn’t be considered unless the state first addresses its severe fiscal problems. “Without fixing, it makes no sense just raising taxes,” Sweeney said, “because the problems won’t get fixed. The money will just be gone.”
So it looks like the issues and positions will be much the same for the Legislature and the governor’s office in the upcoming budget negotiations.
At least Murphy and other state leaders seem to value the improvements in Atlantic City and therefore might do the harder work of getting more done.