The state of business and economic development in New Jersey were big themes in Gov. Phil Murphy’s first State of the State address Tuesday in Trenton.
Murphy made his point by bringing up the recent audit of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority by the state Comptroller’s Office.
“I had planned to give a very different speech today, but after reading the audit of New Jersey’s corporate tax incentives released last week, this is not a time for business as usual,” he said.
In the next breath, the governor said he doesn’t oppose tax incentives.
“Let me be perfectly clear on two things,” he said. “First, I do not oppose tax incentives. Second, the overwhelming majority of companies receiving a tax incentive are good actors.”
Murphy also proposed — without specifics — the direction he would like to see the EDA go.
“I am calling for a new program that is capped in the amount of money it gives out, has clear eligibility criteria and oversight, has flexibility and works to achieve our broader goals by investing in the high-wage, high-growth sectors upon which we must rebuild our economy,” Murphy said.
“It is about fostering the new economy rather than simply helping a few big corporations.”
The governor dedicated the first half of his speech to economic development and tax incentives.
Murphy said the audit showed some companies were awarded incentives despite not meeting the criteria or by claiming to meet the criteria without any internal verification process at the EDA.
“The comptroller could not prove that New Jersey got back benefits anywhere near what it handed out,” Murphy said.
“In the upcoming fiscal year, these tax breaks from the past will cost us more than $1 billion.”
Murphy also touched on several other sectors in which his administration has made changes or pushed for greater action. They include:
- Tuition-free associate degrees;
- Reduced health insurance premiums from a state-based reinsurance program;
- Equal pay laws;
- Expanded medical marijuana;
- Earned paid sick leave;
- Increased funding to fight the opioid epidemic;
- Funding Planned Parenthood;
- Offshore wind energy goals;
- Protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community;
- Investing in New Jersey Transit;
- Gun safety laws.
Murphy also spent time to push for yet-unfulfilled campaign promises including legalizing recreational marijuana and the $15 minimum wage. On the latter, the governor indicated he and the state’s legislative leaders, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), have made progress and could get a $15 wage bill done soon.
“So, let’s start 2019 by finishing what we began in 2018 — putting the minimum wage on a clear and responsible path to $15 an hour, and legalizing adult-use marijuana,” he said. “We must remember that, when we talk about policy, we are talking about people, not politics. Our minimum-wage workers got a 25-cent-per-hour increase on January 1 — a scant $10 more on a 40-hour work week. That’s completely inadequate.”
Despite the significant work left, Murphy said the state is still better off than it was a year ago.
“The state of our state is stronger and fairer than it was one year ago,” he said.
“It comes down to this — you can’t have economic progress without social progress, and you can’t have social progress without economic progress. That’s where this journey is taking us — to a New Jersey that is both strong and fair.”