I want to first acknowledge and thank my family. This past December, my beautiful wife Cindi and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary.
Cindi – You have been a part of this journey every step of the way. Thank you for always reminding me of what is important in life.
To our three beautiful children – Lauren, Eric and Jenna.
Being your dad has been the great honor of my life, and watching you grow into compassionate, thoughtful, and remarkable young adults has brought so much joy.
The three of you are the best people I know and I aspire to be as good of a person as each of you are.
You are my inspiration and you motivate me every day to make New Jersey a better place.
Truth be told, your lives and experiences are the lens through which I view public policy and how it will impact you, your generation and our future.
Finally, thank you to my talented staff – Amy, Jen, Jade, Mickey, Dave, Matt, Winnie and Tina.
The staff at the Assembly Majority Office and Office of Legislative Services.
Thank you for all you do for all of us and for the people of New Jersey.
Today, I step to the podium for my thirteenth term in the Legislature and my fifth term as Majority Leader.
It has been an honor to represent the people of the Sixth Legislative District and the great state of New Jersey.
When I was first elected to the General Assembly in 1995, I was one of only thirty Democrats, and Republicans had a fifty-member majority.
Today – we return with fifty-two Democratic members.
In fact, Democrats have now held our longest majority in the Assembly in New Jersey history.
I say this not to be boastful but as a reminder, that this is a direct result of the public’s faith in our public policy agenda and our continued commitment to look to public policy that represents our diversity.
New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country, and I am proud to stand here today and see that diversity reflected in this Legislature.
The diversity that has been built into this body gives us broad perspectives and deep insights into what we need to do to address the issues facing us going forward.
Whether its tax reform, health care or our environment we in the Legislature work to find consensus and common ground.
It is a lofty goal and often the individual ingredients of public policy may not necessarily be shared by everyone.
Good public policy – the best public policy, has always involved a diverse set of stakeholders and advocates from different backgrounds and viewpoints to find the best possible solution.
It is not about getting exactly what you want.
It is about listening to each other, recognizing differences, and finding compromise.
This includes bipartisan solutions, because the problems our constituents face are not democrat or republican and our constituents rely upon us to come together and find the solutions.
In the words of our great President, John F. Kennedy, “Compromise does not mean cowardice.”
In fact, the greatest sign of courage is finding compromise with others.
As my wife often reminds me, I could agree with you, but then we would both be wrong.
Compromise is essential for the common good – not only by improving the status quo but it also contributes to a robust democratic process.
When I look back on this stage, I see a group of proud public servants who understand the formula to good public policy.
I see a group of people who are not concerned about getting credit for things, but who are united in their commitment to solving the most difficult problems and bettering New Jersey.
Today we have much to be proud of.
For we have accomplished many of our goals which have made a real, lasting, positive impact on the lives of New Jerseyans.
We passed a budget that provided significant tax relief for our municipalities, families, and seniors.
By fully funding our Senior Property Tax Freeze and Homestead Rebate programs, providing an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, and doubling the income tax deductions for New Jersey veterans, we demonstrated our commitment to making New Jersey an affordable place to live.
We updated our school funding formula, investing more funding than ever into our children’s futures and expanded pre-K education for the second year in a row, closing learning gaps and helping working moms and dads.
We made real progress in addressing gun violence in our state.
While efforts have stalled nationally, New Jersey passed laws to expand evidence-based violence intervention programs like the hospital-based program at University Hospital.
These programs connect victims and their families with the resources they need to break the cycles of violence that plague our communities.
We closed private gun sale loopholes and reduced ammunition magazine capacity from 15 rounds to 10 rounds.
New Jersey is now a national leader on gun violence prevention because of the work we have done.
We have also taken bold steps to ensure everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, or ability to pay, has access to high quality healthcare.
We preserved the Affordable Care Act in New Jersey against repeated attempts by Washington to dismantle it.
Because in New Jersey, we believe that access to affordable health care is a right, not a privilege
And we understand the important role that health care plays in our state’s economy.
Thank you particularly to Speaker Coughlin for his leadership on this issue.
We preserved funding for essential health services for women in New Jersey after the federal government enacted a reckless gag rule, which put thousands of New Jerseyans at risk of losing access to services like cancer screenings and reproductive health services.
With special thanks to Assemblywomen Lampitt and Downey we passed the strongest equal pay law in America.
Ensuring that all people, regardless of their gender, will receive equal pay for equal work.
So that my daughters will have the same opportunities as my son. So they will be judged by their ability and not their gender.
We improved Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Leave laws in New Jersey.
Ensuring that parents caring for a new child, or children caring for their sick or elderly parents, can prioritize the health of their loved ones over the dollars in their bank accounts.
Here in New Jersey we led the country again by, fighting for an increase to our minimum wage, putting us on a path to $15 per hour by 2024.
Because the hard-working people who are the drivers of New Jersey’s economy deserve to be paid a living wage.
We provided driver’s license to undocumented immigrants, which will make our roads safer and make it easier for thousands of workers to provide for their families.
Thank you Assemblywoman Quijano for your powerful voice in this fight.
Finally, we have fought for justice for the less fortunate in our communities.
People who deserve a second chance in life have found a tireless advocate in legislators like Jamel Holley, who deserve credit for the thousands of New Jerseyans they help get on their feet every year.
This past election, a historic election for Democrats in New Jersey, shows that we have made great progress in delivering on our promises to residents, and finding the balance of our policy that speaks in an inclusive way to our state’s diversity.
That being said, there is still a lot of work to do to achieve our vision for New Jersey.
Two years ago, I stood at this podium worried about the future of this country and the rising hatred and intolerance for one another based on skin color, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
I am sorry to say these concerns remain relevant today.
We are indeed in uncertain times. Perhaps more uncertain than any other time we have faced
However, this is not something new to our state or nation.
As I look around this chamber and see one of the most diverse Legislatures ever assembled in New Jersey, I remain optimistic.
As the late poet, Maya Angelou once stated, “…in diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.”
I am certain, united together we can overcome any difficulty ahead or challenges we may face in the future.
Because, in New Jersey we know how to use our diverse backgrounds and experiences to find compromise and create good public policy.
And we will certainly be faced with some of our biggest challenges yet.
For example, we will need to address our growing water infrastructure crisis.
We all agree that New Jersey must be safe for our children, and that includes ready access to safe, drinkable water that is free of lead and other dangerous contaminants.
Kids in school should not have to worry that water from their drinking fountains or food from their school’s cafeteria could expose them to dangerous amounts of lead, nor should expecting parents have to worry that drinking their own tap water could seriously harm their child’s development.
This is the crisis point we are at. We cannot expect our economy to grow and cities to flourish if we have not invested in our water infrastructure.
Our water delivery system is under enormous stress. Some places in New Jersey have not seen investments since the civil war.
The time is now to invest in our water infrastructure.
Many of the issues we work on are connected. As we enter into the new legislative session, we must have the tough conversations about tax reform.
We know that college graduates are struggling to purchase homes in our state.
We know that almost half of our children are living at home with mom and dad in New Jersey — more than anywhere else in the country.
We boast the nation’s best K-12 public schools yet we are number one in out-migration of high school students.
And seniors, many of whom are living on fixed incomes, simply cannot afford to stay.
They aren’t moving to Florida, or California, or Texas.
They are moving a few miles away to Pennsylvania and New York.
Living under Pennsylvania’s flat income tax, a family would need to make over $130,000 in order to come out ahead of New Jersey’s progressive income tax.
New York, infamously boasts the highest overall tax burden in the nation, yet both of these states are attracting our citizens.
So we know it is not their overall tax policy that is more attractive.
It is our property tax that is single handedly crushing New Jerseyans and people are voting with their feet and moving to other states.
I know everyone on this stage wants to make New Jersey a viable place for our next generation of residents to live and work and we all want our parents and grandparents to stay after they retire.
Many of the individuals on this stage have voted for a 2% property tax cap, we voted for pension and benefit reform, and shared services.
Yet no one’s property taxes have gone down.
Which is why I believe comprehensive reform to our property tax system is needed if we want to fix the affordability crisis here in New Jersey.
We have to look at bold, innovate ways to address this issue. One solution we must consider is a citizen’s Constitutional Convention on Property Taxes.
Our citizenry are the ones most affected by this property tax crisis; I believe they are also the ones best positioned to help solve it.
The time is now for major policy changes to our regressive and outdated property tax structure, and I stand ready to work with this Governor and Legislature, in a bipartisan effort, to move New Jersey forward.
Finally, in recent years we have seen too many young individuals take their lives because they have felt helpless or depressed.
Most recently, a dear friend of our family had a nephew, who by all outward appearances had it all.
He was handsome, smart, and had a good, loving family.
This young man, unable to face the pressures of his peers and social media, silently took his own life in his bedroom while his parents were downstairs.
I tell you this story because mental illness is a silent killer that can occur to anyone during a single lifetime.
The onset of depression and anxiety can be triggered by a number of reasons and often times there may be no obvious signs or reasons.
No one is immune.
With mental health issues becoming more prevalent among our young people and youth suicide rates at an all-time high, we can all agree helping our young adults understand how to manage their challenges while providing the resources they need to overcome their trauma is fundamental.
If we can recognize issues early on, we can more easily address problems before they reach a crisis level and put these young individuals back on a path to success.
There is no health without mental health.
People should not be left to fend for themselves when they experience mental illness.
And we will work to provide better services. So that people feel they can come to us, and when they come to us, they are not met with silence.
These are just some of the goals and issues we must work towards in the new session.
They may not be the easiest goals and we may not agree on the individual ingredients, but I am confident that as we head into the next legislative session, together we can accomplish progress in these areas.
As my mother, Maria Barnaby Greenwald, often told me, “The goals that are the hardest to accomplish are by far the ones that are most rewarding.”
I know that if my mother were still with us today, she would urge me not to shy away from the most difficult issues, but instead to tackle them head on with the support of my fellow colleagues in the Legislature.
I look forward to working with each and every one of you as Assembly Majority Leader, and I thank you for your commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of all New Jerseyans.