TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy said at his inaugural Tuesday that his second-term goals include making New Jersey “the Opportunity State” and lowering property taxes by increasing state aid to schools.

It was a scaled-back ceremony to mark the start of Murphy’s second term, in a nod to the pandemic’s omicron-fueled wave that is showing recent signs of abating. There was an intentionally sparse crowd at the Trenton War Memorial, and the inaugural ball has been put off until perhaps the spring.

Murphy paused early in his speech for a moment of silence for the more than 30,000 state residents who have died due to the pandemic. And there were 3,000 small American flags in a field outside of the Trenton War Memorial, each representing about 10 of those who have died.

He acknowledged the concerns brought on by what's now a two-year pandemic and overall sentiment about the current challenges in the United States.

“For far too many across our state, and indeed our nation, the fraught state of our politics has brought with it an added fear that the American Dream is dying,” Murphy said.

“So, our job is to make living, working and raising a family in New Jersey secure again for every one of the 9.3 million members of our extraordinary extended family,” he said. “It is our duty to ensure a recovery from COVID that reaches far and wide to include every New Jerseyan and to set them alongside us on the path forward. And it is our duty to get the American Dream working for everyone.”

American Dream, with Jersey attitude

Murphy said that “our task is building a New Jersey that is also the Opportunity State.”

“Our goal for these next four years is to make sure that the American Dream – an American Dream by the way with Jersey flavor and with Jersey attitude, amen to that – make sure that that dream is alive and well,” Murphy said.

“It is about moving people forward without leaving people behind,” he said. “It is about voices raised together with a backbeat you cannot miss. It is about taking away obstacles and adding seats around the table of possibility and prosperity. And most of all, it is about filling the air we breathe with real opportunity and full equality.”

Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his inaugural address, with his family, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, legislative leaders, members of Congress, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, former governors and others looking on. (Tim Larsen/Governor's Office)
Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his inaugural address, with his family, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, legislative leaders, members of Congress, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, former governors and others looking on. (Tim Larsen/Governor's Office)
loading...

Murphy said New Jersey can show the nation a path forward with values such as service, sacrifice, family and humility.

“Our national political discourse is in shambles. I can fully understand why some fear that the American Dream is dying and out of reach. But I will not be among them,” he said. “As I said when I proudly yet humbly accepted my re-election, if you want to know what the future looks like, if you want to understand what America can be, come to New Jersey. If you want to see what is right with America, look to New Jersey.”

Murphy: Let's see property taxes go down

Inaugural addresses, even more than State of the State speeches, are about large themes rather than specific objectives. But Murphy said he has heard from residents who want a more affordable state, especially regarding three major expenses: health care, college and property taxes.

“We’re going to keep chopping away at property taxes,” he said. “Though property taxes are not set by the state – either by me or the Legislature – the decisions and investments we make directly impact their trajectory.  Every dollar of new state funding for our schools and communities, for local roads and libraries, and for countless other areas, is a dollar that stays in your pocket as a property taxpayer.”

Property taxes in the state approached an average of $9,300 last year. Though annual growth is now consistently under 2%, the average bill has still risen $1,500 over the past decade.

“But I’m not going to be satisfied with just slowing property tax growth. I want to get us to a place where we can begin to see them go down. Enough already,” Murphy said. “So, for example, we’re going to keep working toward fully funding our public schools. Likewise, we will continue to grow pre-K – yeah – we will continue to grow pre-K with an objective of ensuring universal preschool for every young learner in every community in the state.”

Gov. Phil Murphy signs the oath of office as he begins his second term as governor. (Tim Larsen/Governor's Office)
Gov. Phil Murphy signs the oath of office as he begins his second term as governor. (Tim Larsen/Governor's Office)
loading...

Murphy also said his second-term priorities include additional gun-safety laws, a further expansion of voting rights and the confirmation of three state Supreme Court justices to fill pending vacancies.

Republican response

Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, said if Murphy really wants to focus on affordability, possibilities include a state charitable deduction, challenging the reciprocal agreement in how New Jersey and New York tax interstate commuters, replenishing the unemployment fund with federal aid rather than business tax hikes, school aid, pension and health-benefits reform and addressing sick-leave payouts to municipal workers.

“We have solutions on the table that could help turn the tide on property taxes and income taxes, which consistently top the list of concerns of New Jerseyans,” Oroho said. “If the governor and legislative leadership want to work in a bipartisan fashion, we have a real opportunity to lower the cost of living in the Garden State.”

Murphy noted he is the first Democrat re-elected to a second term as New Jersey governor in 44 years, since the late Brendan Byrne in 1977.

“But being governor is not about the party to which we belong,” Murphy said. “So, I renew my pledge to be the governor for all of New Jersey – the governor for everyone who voted for me, and for everyone who did not. After all, we are all New Jerseyans. As diverse as we are, we share common challenges, common cause, and a common bond.”

Get our free mobile app

The three Democrats elected to one term since Byrne but not a second – Jim Florio, Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine – were on stage in attendance for the inauguration, along with Dick Codey, who completed McGreevey’s term when he resigned, and Chris Christie, the lone Republican governor to attend.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

2021 NJ property taxes: See how your town compares

Find your municipality in this alphabetical list to see how its average property tax bill for 2021 compares to others. You can also see how much the average bill changed from 2020. For an interactive map version, click here. And for the full analysis by New Jersey 101.5, read this story.

7 New Jersey candle scents we need