New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy will deliver his State of the State address Tuesday to a crowd of lawmakers at the Statehouse for the first time in three years — after two years of remote addresses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He’s expected to talk about efforts to advance equity and opportunity for New Jersey workers, political analysts say. He’ll likely draw contrasts between progress in New Jersey and obstructive politicking in Washington. In the days leading up to the address, he’s highlighted ways New Jersey has protected abortion rights and restricted gun access in the face of conservative U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
You can watch his speech at 2 p.m. in this post or through the governor’s YouTube channel.
Political observers will also be looking for signs Murphy is speaking to not just New Jerseyans, but to a national audience, as he’s frequently been discussed as a potential presidential candidate should Joe Biden decline to seek reelection. However, with Biden expected by many observers to formally announce his run for a second term shortly, Murphy may keep the focus on the issues he’ll want to define his governorship.
“He’s not encumbered by an election in front of him,” Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said. “And so this is really an opportunity to define what he wants to do when he grows up, what he wants to be — and what he wants to accomplish.”
‘Opportunity for all’
Murphy closed out 2022’s address pledge movement toward “a New Jersey rich with opportunity for all willing to work hard, which is just ahead of us.”
That seems to be a theme likely to recur in this year’s State of the State. In a video posted to Twitter Sunday, Murphy said he’d been practicing the address. “There are still folks out there who need us, and we’re going to be there for them,” he said.
Peter Chen, a senior policy analyst for the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said he expects cheerleading for policies meant to expand access to services and boost economic opportunities — like the state’s ongoing Cover All Kids initiative, which this year is making health insurance available through Medicaid or CHIP for anyone under the age of 19, regardless of immigration status.
“Our expectation is that this is largely going to be sort of building on commitments that have already been made, and investments that have been put in,” he said.
In the last few days, the governor’s Twitter account has celebrated the $12.5 million Pay it Forward zero-interest college loan program, the ANCHOR property tax rebate program aimed at helping middle-class and working families and the $9.9 billion in school aid allocated in the current state budget. Murphy’s office has also highlighted steps the state took to modernize water infrastructure. And it marked the rollout of legal recreational marijuana, which despite concerns that large multi-state operators have already cornered much of the market, is broadly seen as an opportunity to build economic opportunities among communities of color and others disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.
Chen said he’s looking out for fiscal talk — assurances New Jersey can sustain progress initiatives as federal COVID-19 funds dry up. He pointed to the state’s 2.5% Corporation Business Tax surcharge, which sunsets after 2023. The chair of the Senate Budget committee doesn’t expect to extend it, and Republicans have pushed for an earlier end.
“We’re talking about some of the biggest businesses in New Jersey that are gonna get a huge tax cut, and … starting off in the middle of the fiscal year, blowing a $600 million hole in the budget is just not a path to fiscal sustainability,” he said.
Rasmussen, who’d been press secretary to then-Gov. James E. McGreevey from 2002-2004, said he anticipates discussion about “attempts to bring up people who are left behind or struggling — our working families.”
“The question is going to be whether there’s an appetite for big spending from the Legislature,” he said.
Attracting more business
Matthew Hale, an associate professor in Seton Hall University’s political science program, said he expects to hear more about attracting businesses to New Jersey.
“Gov. Murphy, in 2022, spent a lot of time talking about economic development. He highlighted things he was going to do to get people to come to New Jersey — as he often says, to ‘grow this sucker’ when he talks about the economy.”
That might include discussing major corporate investments, such as Netflix’s plan to build a production facility at Fort Monmouth. The state is continuing substantial development in wind, even over objections of some local residents and environmentalists. Murphy just signed a bill to streamline inspection processes, allowing development projects to move ahead with fewer hurdles.
I think you’ve got to make some favorable comparisons between Trenton and Washington.
Hale said Murphy’s stated goals about economic development don’t necessarily run contrary to securing the tax revenue he’ll need for progressive projects.
“Governor Murphy is a banker. He knows that in order for the entire economy to grow, you have to have more jobs,” he said.
Fighting a conservative Supreme Court
Nearly a year ago, Murphy signed the state’s Reproductive Choice Act, codifying many of the same reproductive rights the U.S. Supreme Court would later put aside when it overturned Roe. vs. Wade. Murphy is reminding residents of that effort in the lead-up to this year’s address as well.
Over the summer, Murphy signed legislation enshrining marriage equality into state law, amid concerns the Supreme Court might undermine same-sex marriage protections next.
And last month, Murphy signed a bill limiting where guns could be carried in New Jersey, in the aftermath of the top court’s June decision that gut concealed carry restrictions like those previously in place in both New York and New Jersey.
“He’s going to make the claim that in New Jersey, we protect people — we protect them from gun violence, and we protect the right to choose,” Hale said. “And so he’s going to draw a contrast about New Jersey working in the areas where the federal government has let us down.”
Some state-regulated health insurers are now required to cover all costs for abortion care, but the mandate isn’t universal. New Jersey is also offering no-interest, forgivable loans to reproductive health care providers to upgrade their facilities. Chen said he’ll be looking to see if Murphy outlines more initiatives to ensure there’s access to abortion even when cost could otherwise be a barrier.
‘A slam dunk’
New Jersey governors, on campaign trails and in state addresses, have gotten a lot of mileage out of discussing the Garden State as a place where people reach across the aisle to get things done. It was a favorite talking point of Republican Chris Christie’s, and it’s long been one of Murphy’s.
Hale said the past week’s protracted battle to elect a House speaker — where a handful of hardline Republicans demanded heavy concessions from Rep. Kevin McCarthy before finally joining a 15th round of voting to elect him — gives Murphy “a slam dunk” talking point.
Rasmussen said he agrees: “It’s the low-hanging fruit. And I think you’ve got to take that. I think you’ve got to make some favorable comparisons between Trenton and Washington.”
Longshots: COVID-19 and big tax relief
Chen, Hale and Rasmussen all said they don’t see Murphy engaging much on the state’s COVID-19 response. It hasn’t been a winning story for the governor — he only promised a post-mortem on the state’s handling of the pandemic after months of hounding from reporters, and New Jersey is outsourcing management of veterans homes after state inspectors found COVID-19 infection control problems and other issues put residents of the Menlo Park home in “immediate jeopardy.”
Hale said he’d also consider any kind of massive relief or overhaul of New Jersey’s tax situation a long-shot — “it’s structurally very, very difficult to do.” New Jersey has the highest effective real estate tax rate in the nation, according to a WalletHub analysis.
For Chen, any fallback to “some sort of anti-tax rhetoric” would be concerning. It might play well on the national stage, or even at home — but it would mean jeopardizing investments meant to help communities, he said.
“Politicians love to talk about how great all of these investments are, all the programs that they are doing — all the good work we want government to do,” Chen said. “But all of that has to be paid for, and it’s through taxation.”