After a closer-than-expected re-election, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy used his annual State of the State address Tuesday to announce a new focus for his second term: cutting taxes.
Murphy mentioned taxes 33 times during the 42 minute speech, more than triple the amount of his election-year State of the State in 2021.
“The budget I put forward will not come with any tax increases,” Murphy said in a pre-recorded speech, delivered in an empty hall and broadcast online due New Jersey’s current omicron surge. “And we will continue our work taking on the one issue that has stood in the way of too many New Jersey families for far too long – property taxes.”
New Jersey has the highest taxes in the nation. When Murphy ran for re-election, polls found that voters did not believe he had done anything to bring those taxes down. And his opponent, Jack Ciattarelli, had dug up a video of Murphy telling a business group that if taxes were their issue, they shouldn’t come to New Jersey.
The annual speech is usually given before a joint session of the New Jersey State Legislature, which was in Trenton on Tuesday for the start of the new legislative session. And while governors typically use their address to lay out their legislative goals for the year, Murphy spent most of the speech looking back on his first term.
“We have shown you can make economic progress and social progress at the same time. In fact, one helps the other,” Murphy said. “The proof? … We’ve jumped 43 spots in economic growth among American states – from 47th when I took office to fourth today.” He was citing data from the U.S. Department of Commerce that measures the total value of goods and services produced by each state.
Murphy also pointed to other first-term successes, such as raising the minimum wage and boosting the state’s green economy with a new wind energy port and turbine manufacturing facility. But one of his major policy victories got short shrift in the speech. The governor barely mentioned the legalization of marijuana, the rollout of which has been snagged by continual delays.
In his second term, Murphy may have a much friendlier legislature to help pass his agenda. For the past 12 years, the State Senate was controlled by President Steve Sweeney, who despite being a Democrat was no friend of the governor’s.
But Sweeney lost his seat in November, in a stunning defeat to his little-financed Republican opponent, truck driver Ed Durr. Murphy was party to a deal that made Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the new senate president. So it is expected that the governor will be able to get bills passed and cabinet appointments confirmed more quickly than in his first term.
In his speech, Murphy addressed the political divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington. He called for bipartisanship, but it could also be taken as a message to Trenton Democrats who haven’t always welcomed Murphy’s policy proposals with open arms.
“Let’s work together in good faith and with common purpose. This doesn’t mean we won’t or even can’t disagree,” Murphy said. “But it should mean that compromise and common sense are not dirty words.”
And while the speech was notably light on specific policy proposals, Murphy will have another chance to lay out a second term agenda during his second inauguration next week.