This week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy delivered the 2021 state of the state address via a pre-recorded video recorded in an empty Trenton War Memorial Building due to COVID-19 precautions. The annual address is typically held during a live, joint-session of the legislature in the Statehouse in Trenton.
Murphy, highlighting his credentials as a progressive Democrat in the beginning of a re-election year, ticked off a number of accomplishments in his first term as governor including the $15 minimum wage law, a millionaire’s tax with a rebate for middle-class residents, health care reforms designed to lower premiums, expansion of pre-kindergarten and tuition-free community colleges. Those decisions, claimed Governor Murphy, were “some of the best decisions to get us through the pandemic.”
Vaccinations: The first of six-planned vaccination “mega-sites” opened last week, providing access points located throughout the state that will eventually be able to inoculate around 2,500 people each day. But for now, the 1,000 doses each site is slated to receive on a weekly basis are being held for health care workers and first responders.
Education: Murphy noted his administration’s efforts to expand funding for pre-K and continue his office’s Community College Opportunity Grant Program, which is poised to become permanent if the governor signs the establishing bill currently sitting on his desk — but recognized that students, teachers, and families did not receive the top-notch New Jersey schooling they deserved this year.
Murphy stated that 5% of all New Jersey students still fall into the Digital Divide, meaning they lack either the devices or internet access, or both, necessary for remote learning. That’s a significant decrease from the more than 230,000 students without access at the beginning of the pandemic, but still represents nearly 9,000 kids unable to attend class online.
Economic Incentives: The governor spent a good portion of his speech touting a recent $14 billion deal to revamp the state’s controversial tax incentive programs, and emphasized the money that’s going to small businesses. Nearly 55,000 small businesses have received grants or loans through the state’s Economic Development Authority, steps Murphy said have enabled them to stay in business.
Clean Energy: Governor Murphy reiterated his commitment to reach the goal of New Jersey having a 100% clean energy economy by 2050. Murphy called New Jersey the “country’s leader in offshore wind,” citing the newly announced New Jersey Wind port in South Jersey and a new manufacturing facility at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal.
Murphy added, “These key first investments in offshore wind manufacturing will bring up to $2,000 good-paying union jobs to our state, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments, and make us the nation’s offshore wind-energy leader.”
Infrastructure Investments: Governor Murphy indicated that when President-Elect Biden takes office next week, he will work to ensure that promise of a new Gateway Tunnel is fulfilled, among other infrastructure-related priorities. “We are leaving for the next generation a rail system wholly different than the one we inherited. We are making historic investments in our roads and bridges. We are reimagining our airports and seaports,” said Murphy.
Republican Reaction: Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) criticized Murphy for what he called a lack of transparency in his decisions related to addressing the coronavirus crisis and urged him to seek more bipartisan solutions in the year to come. Others, including Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Morris), chastised the governor over efforts to protect those at veterans and nursing homes, which account for roughly 40% of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities, and the pace of the vaccine rollout.
“There’s been no accountability for what happened. We’re lacking transparency. The governor has refused to release documents, refused to release the metrics that he uses in making many of these decisions,” Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) said after the speech. “All of that plays a role in giving people hesitance as to whether or not we’re moving in the right direction.”