TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy reviewed what he’s gotten done in the past two years and made a veiled reference to seeking re-election in a State of the State speech that promised to add details on an agenda for 2020 in the weeks ahead.

Among the priorities Murphy did emphasize, which isn’t new, is a so-called millionaires tax – raising taxes on income over $1 million a year from 8.97% to 10.75%. He advocated for that in each of his first two budgets, but the idea has hit a wall in the Legislature.

“A millionaires tax will allow us to ease the property tax burden literally on millions of middle-class families and seniors, and it will do more to help fund our public schools. Overwhelming majorities of residents – of all political stripes – support this. We should, too,” Murphy said.

“The millionaires and corporate CEOs made out just fine in the last recession – and, I assure you, they will again when the next one hits,” he said. “Thanks to the federal tax system, the richest 400 Americans now pay a lower tax rate than the nation’s middle class. That is the first time that has ever happened.

“The answer to ensuring we come out of any recession stronger than when we went in is not to tell the middle class and the most vulnerable, ‘perhaps another day, but not now,’” Murphy said.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, wasn’t available to talk with reporters after Murphy’s speech but said a day before that his position hasn’t changed.

“I’m not going to mince any words: Until he fixes what’s wrong here, we’re not raising taxes. He needs to fix the problems,” said Sweeney, referring to state spending on pensions and health benefits. “And then if you’re short revenue, I can understand doing those things. But without fixing, it makes no sense just raising taxes because the problems won’t get fixed. The money will just be gone.”

Republicans said the talk of higher taxes sends a negative message inside and outside New Jersey.

“You know what’s going to happen if that millionaires tax passes? You’re going to see a whole lot more millionaires living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania instead of in the state of New Jersey,” said Sen. Mike Testa, R-Cumberland.

“He highlights how we have such a huge surplus now in one breath and then in the other breath that we have to have that additional tax,” said state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris. “You know why? Because they want to spend it.”

Murphy also announced that he would:

  • Detail a new Jobs NJ program at an event in Wednesday in East Brunswick, designed to “clear a path to ongoing job training” to match people with the job needs of employers.
  • Unveil New Jersey’s new Energy Master Plan in two weeks.
  • Propose a series of ethics reforms in the coming weeks that will including stronger financial disclosures, tighter pay-to-pay restrictions and expanded transparency for state government.
  • Establish an Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency within his office, to coordinate work by multiple agencies on reducing consumer health care costs, making insurance more affordable and improving price transparency.
  • Create a new task force made up of government officials, academic researchers, and faith and community leaders that will examine wealth disparity that mostly harms black and Hispanic families.

Murphy also told lawmakers NJ Transit will soon announce, for the first time, a 10-year strategic plan and 5-year capital plan.

“If a transit system doesn’t know where it’s going, it’s never going to get there. That’s what our strategic and capital plans will change,” Murphy said.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said she wrote to Murphy several months ago to suggest NJ Transit needs a strategic plan. She said it would have been nice for the governor to acknowledge that the Senate approved four members for NJ Transit’s board at Monday’s session.

“We’ve been asking for a while for a long-range vision plan, so I’m glad to hear him saying that because I think that’s important,” Weinberg said. “And I think we have begun to actually oversee NJ Transit with the addition of these board members and hopefully more to come very quickly.”

Though Murphy insisted NJ Transit has been improving, lawmakers said commuters disagree.

“He talked about New Jersey Transit reforms, but nobody on the rail lines in my district are feeling any change in any way, shape or form,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union.

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Early in the speech, Murphy alluded to seeking a second term as governor.

"Some might say, two years into this journey, we are halfway through. I’m leaning toward saying we’re a quarter of the way through," he said, to some laughter and applause — and a bit of an eye roll from Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. "But that's another speech for another day."


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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