Governor Phil Murphy today delivered his fourth annual State of the State address as New Jersey residents continue to struggle with a new wave of more contagious COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state have surpassed the peak number reported during last winter’s surge, so Murphy renewed his Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency declarations regarding the state’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In consultation with my partners in the Legislature, I have taken the necessary step of re-declaring a Public Health Emergency to ensure we keep moving forward – guided by facts and science – and that we keep doing everything we can to beat back Omicron and put COVID behind us,” said Murphy.
Officials reported more than 21,000 new cases, over 6,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and the state registered 142 new deaths from the deadly virus.
“Across New Jersey, nearly 90 percent of all eligible residents have received at least a first vaccine dose. Let me say that again – nine out of every ten eligible residents have now raised up their sleeve at least once. And 75 percent of you have completed your primary vaccination course,” said Murphy.
“But we know that these initial courses – either the two-dose regimen of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, or the one-shot from J&J – weaken after several months. It is more important than ever that you get your booster shot,” said Murphy. “Science and reality tell us that what we once called “full” vaccination is no longer that. A booster is not a bonus – it is a necessity. “
Murphy claimed, “We have greater tax fairness. We’ve cut taxes for our middle-class and working families, and our seniors, fourteen times.”
“And I commit to you now that the state budget I propose in a few weeks won’t raise taxes,” said Murphy. “We have more accessible and affordable health care and child care, stronger public schools, and more affordable higher education.”
Although under legislation Murphy signed into law in 2019, employers can legally pay Gardern State workers as little as $5.13 an hour, he said: “Four years ago, today, New Jersey’s minimum wage was $8.65 an hour – a wage that locked countless hard-working New Jersey families into a cycle of poverty. Today, our minimum wage is $13 an hour and on a path to $15 an hour, with hundreds of thousands of families now starting to reach up and pull themselves into the middle class.”
“Today, New Jersey’s public education system is ranked the very best in the nation and we continue to bring more and more students and communities under that banner,” said Murphy, who neglected the fact that the state has some of America’s worst racial segregation in classrooms 60 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision banned them.
Murphy ticked off a list of accomplishments including, “Combating gun violence, protecting reproductive freedom, climate change, ensuring that every newborn has a healthy start, repairing a broken criminal justice system, standing for the rights of organized labor, and securing the dignity of our LGBTQIA+ communities.
A Rutgers study published in November found that people who bought firearms during the COVID-19 pandemic tend to have less emotional and impulse control than other gun owners.
Murphy intends to sign a scaled-back version of the Reproductive Freedom Act, which passed both houses of the Legislature Monday in substantially weaker form than proposed. The measure will not require insurance to cover abortions and birth control.
“At a time when reproductive freedom is on the line, we need to guarantee that abortion is not just legal, but accessible,” said Sarah Fajardo, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “To meaningfully protect the right to abortion and ensure equitable access, we must go beyond the status quo and guarantee that abortion is affordable for all New Jerseyans, regardless of insurance access, immigration status, or income.”
Despite booming profits and expanding sports-betting revenues, lawmakers gave Atlantic City casinos tens of millions of dollars in annual tax breaks worth at least $145 million.
A report by the state Comptroller’s Office said the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) still allows corporations to self-report data on job creation without independent oversight, which means businesses receive tax credits they have not earned.
New Jersey’s Legislature consists of an 80-seat Assembly and a 40-seat Senate and Murphy’s poor performance in the election was not enough to put the GOP in charge.
Democrats hold 24 Senate seats to the GOP’s 14, down from 25-15 in the previous session.
In the Assembly, the Democrats have 46 seats to the Republicans’ 34, down from a 52-28 seat advantage.