Home>Feature>Let’s build the ‘Next New Jersey,’ Murphy says in 2023 State of the State Address

Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address before a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature on January 10, 2023. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Let’s build the ‘Next New Jersey,’ Murphy says in 2023 State of the State Address

Governor mostly steers clear of controversial topics, focuses instead on economic issues

By Joey Fox, January 10 2023 3:15 pm

After being battered for the last three years by Covid and economic troubles, what could the “Next New Jersey” look like?

That’s the question Gov. Phil Murphy focused on today in his 2023 State of the State Address, which highlighted the work his administration has done over the last five years and the work still left to go on affordability, economic development, and – importantly for small businesses across the state – liquor licenses.

“With the close of 2022, we ended our fifth year of partnership to make New Jersey the stronger and fairer state we know it must be to support our future ambitions,” Murphy said. “And as we start 2023, and embark on year six of our journey together, the state of our state is just that. We are stronger and we are fairer. We are moving confidently in the right direction – forward. Put simply, we are building the Next New Jersey.”

New Jerseyans’ ability to afford living in the state was a key issue throughout 2022, as inflation rose and the costs of basic necessities grew. In today’s address, Murphy highlighted the ANCHOR Property Tax Relief Program, last fall’s school supply sales tax holiday, and the state’s steadily increasing minimum wage as concrete steps his administration has taken to lower costs for New Jerseyans.

“Making New Jersey more affordable for our families and seniors will again be central in the plan I will present to you,” Murphy said. “But I remain incredibly proud of the work we have done together in this current budget to make our state more affordable.”

Murphy also emphasized the importance of economic development, both on a macro level – with Netflix’s Fort Monmouth deal at the top of the list – and on the micro level of New Jersey’s many small businesses.

“Equally as important to our charge is to ensure that our people have good jobs to support their families,” he said. “And in this, too, we have not only seen great successes in growing new economic opportunities over the past five years, but we are setting New Jersey up for an even more prosperous future.”

Key to rebuilding the state’s small businesses, Murphy said, is amending the state’s antiquated liquor license laws, which only allow towns to issue one permit per 3,000 residents.

“I ask for your partnership in rewriting our liquor license laws to make them not just modern, but fair,” he told the Statehouse crowd. “The old rules have purposely created market scarcity and driven up costs to the point where a liquor license can draw seven figures.”

Safety from crime, particularly car thefts, was another major focus, with Murphy encouraging the legislature to efficiently pass a set of bills addressing carjacking as soon as possible.

“I ask you today, with humility, to make passing these measures a top priority,” Murphy told the assembled legislators. “If you send these bills to my desk, I will enthusiastically sign them.”

Many of the state’s most hot-button issues, meanwhile, were mostly or entirely absent. Gun controlLGBT rights, and school curricula have all been dividing lines in state and national politics in the last year, but all took a clear backseat today.

Even the issue of abortion, which has been a major rallying cry for Murphy since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last summer, only earned a single promise to “[preserve] every woman’s right to personal reproductive freedom.”

The pandemic itself also was far from the limelight; after Covid defined much of Murphy’s tenure, today’s speech is the clearest sign yet that the governor wants to move on from a pandemic mindset.

“Covid remains a public health reality, even though the numbers of people in our hospitals are less than one-third of what they were one year ago, and half of what they were two years ago,” Murphy acknowledged. “But we have stronger weapons in our arsenal” – namely, vaccines and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

In fact, the very existence of the address was a sign that Murphy has largely put Covid in the rearview mirror. Delivered before a packed and mostly maskless crowd of state legislators, former governors, Supreme Court justices, state cabinet members, and hundreds of others, it was the first in-person State of the State since early 2020.

Murphy, who has been constantly criticized by state Republicans as being excessively liberal, took several opportunities to affirm his commitment to bipartisanship – noting that since becoming chairman of the National Governors Association, he’s developed a close relationship with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox despite Cox belonging to a different party.

“Surely, fostering a stronger, fairer, responsible, more affordable, and growing New Jersey is what each and every one of us here were elected to do,” Murphy said. “And regardless of whether our names are followed by a letter ‘D’ or a letter ‘R,’ this is work to which we are all committed.”

He did, however, fire shots at Republican governors who he said have prioritized corporate-friendly policies over caring for their own residents.

“We outpaced many of the so-called ‘business friendly’ states  [in GDP growth] – states that some claim we have to emulate, states like Georgia and Florida,” Murphy said. “Our clear record of success is greater than that of states that pay for huge tax breaks for the wealthiest and most powerful by taking away investments from public education and civic programs.”

The address, which lasted nearly an hour, touched on a wide variety of other topics as well, including the opioid epidemic, environmental protection, infrastructure improvements, and criminal justice. 

Ultimately, Murphy wanted 2023’s State of the State to be a pro-New Jersey address – one that staked New Jersey’s claim as the greatest state in the nation but that also pushed it to be still better.

“It is okay to admit it – it’s cool to be from New Jersey again,” Murphy said. “It’s cool because we are once again leading in all the right things.”

“Governing is not easy,” he continued. “It’s hard work. But together we have taken on everything that’s come our way. We’ve taken on every challenge with that same swagger we’re known for as New Jerseyans. And now is no time for us to stop and admire the view when a brighter horizon remains forever ahead.”

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