Gov. Phil Murphy presented a proposed state budget of $48.9 billion to a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature on Tuesday afternoon at the State House in Trenton.
The budget will need to be approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature by June 30. Murphy feels the budget will go a long way to make the state better — and more affordable.
“This budget is rooted in a renewed commitment to moving our state forward, creating opportunity for every family and making our state more affordable,” he said.
To be sure, the budget — the highest in state history — offers a number of programs and promises that fulfill the governor’s vison for the state.
Here’s an annotated look at some of what Murphy said during a 58-minute address.
The governor: This budget directly takes on the most stubborn affordability challenge that has faced our state for decades — property taxes. Today, I am putting forward the ANCHOR Property Tax Relief Program to deliver direct property tax relief to nearly 1.8 million middle- and working-class and senior households, whether they are homeowners or renters, households in which well more than half of our residents live.
Our new ANCHOR Property Tax Relief program is a game-changer, a nearly $900 million investment to secure our taxpayers’ places in their homes and communities.
Through ANCHOR, more than 1.15 million homeowners with incomes up to $250,000 will receive direct relief averaging nearly $700. More than 600,000 renters making up to $100,000 will receive as much as $250 in relief.
And, over the next two years, we intend to continue building up the ANCHOR program until it meets the funding and relief levels promised by the state’s 2007 property tax relief law. When that day comes, we will be providing direct property tax relief for homeowners that will average more than $1,150 per household.
Reaction: The plan, which was released a few days ago, appears to be solid and offers a meaningful refund to the overtaxed population.
The governor: I am proud that, across our first four years working together, we cut taxes for our middle-class and working families and seniors 14 times.
When we did raise a tax, it was to make sure large corporations or those at the very top were paying their fair share — just like everyone should. Because we did, we have been able to provide more relief and better opportunities for everyone else.
Reaction: Yes, the governor has cut taxes 14 times. But, thus far, he also has hit the business community with a $1.6 billion tax to replenish the unemployment insurance fund. Approximately 40 other states have used federal funds to help replenish their state UI coffers. A bill that would have the state replenish just some of the funds is advancing through the state senate.
Additional tax cuts
The governor: I made a promise that I would not raise taxes this year. This budget keeps this promise. Additionally, it cuts numerous state fees by a combined $60 million — including one-year fee holidays for driver’s license renewals, marriage licenses, state park entry and for roughly 130,000 professionals across the health care spectrum.
Reaction: Not sure anyone was looking for this type of relief, but, as the saying goes: 10 bucks is 10 bucks.
The governor: In the nine years before we took office, New Jersey’s economic growth ranked 47th among all American states. Yet, by working together, in the third quarter of 2021, it rose all the way up to fourth.
This is what happens when you focus on building an economy that works from the middle out and the bottom up instead of throwing everything at the top in the hopes that something will trickle down to those below.
Reaction: The numbers, 47th to 4th, are cherry-picked for the statistic, as they go up and down on a regular basis. That being said, this a better stat to show the growth of the economy.
Last week, the state got the first credit upgrade since 2005, by Moody’s.
A bond rating upgrade shows confidence in fiscal mindset and management. And an improved bond rating saves taxpayers money — potentially a lot of money, Murphy said.
No arguments here.
The governor: Through the tremendous leadership of Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and her team at the Department of Community Affairs, we established programs to keep families facing foreclosure in their homes — and to make it easier for already-foreclosed properties to be rehabilitated and given a second chance.
We’ve provided down payment help for first-time homebuyers. We put in place one of the nation’s most sweeping moratoriums on evictions to protect renters facing economic hardships during the worst of the pandemic. And we ended the old practice of raiding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to fill budget holes elsewhere. This year, we will continue to protect the Affordable Housing Trust Fund so that every dollar goes to ensuring New Jerseyans have access to affordable housing.
But, even more, today I propose a new $300 million Affordable Housing Production Fund. This fund will help us build the entire current backlog of 3,300 already approved, but still yet-to-be-built, 100%-affordable housing units by the end of my second term.
Reaction: Hard to be against affordable housing and what it really represents — workforce housing.
The governor: In 70% of our municipalities, local schools alone account for more than half of the average property tax bill — more than are collected by all county and municipal governments, local libraries and fire districts, added together.
Across this administration’s first four years, we invested $3 billion more in K-12 education for our public schools than the prior administration did across its last four. Our budget will increase this aid by an additional $650 million dollars — for a total of $9.9 billion.
This budget provides nearly $2 billion more for K-through-12 classrooms than when I took office in 2018. And this figure does not include our commitment to making sure our students have modern schools in which to learn — and, this year, we will make a total $430 million investment in school construction and renovation to deliver upon this promise.
Reaction: Not going to debate this here. The state has the best public schools anywhere (my family has benefited personally). Feels like the dollars don’t all go to the right places, but you can’t argue with the result.
The governor: We will continue expanding the reach of our successful Community College Opportunity Grant Program for a fifth year, and we will make the second year of support for the Garden State Guarantee, which can provide two years of study at one of our four-year public colleges and universities, tuition-free to thousands of eligible students. We will also continue our landmark investments in Tuition Aid Grants and the Educational Opportunity Fund.
Reaction: Savings at community colleges are nice, but Rutgers University deserves the tip of the hat here. Its recently announced Scarlet Guarantee, where those making $100,000 or less will pay no more than $5,000 in tuition is a true game-changer for the state.
The governor: We cannot be the State of Opportunity — the place where the American dream lives — unless we go all-in on ensuring our workers have the skills to get the jobs of their dreams.
We will continue our commitment to critical job training programs and building the diverse workforce necessary for tomorrow — especially in the clean energy economy through programs like the New Jersey Wind Institute for Innovation and Training.
Our budget will also continue our support for rebuilding our state’s advanced manufacturing, life sciences and logistics industries.
Reaction: The governor increased the funding to the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, which does wonders in helping establish job-training and apprenticeship programs, by $500,000. It now stands at $2.5 million, up $2 million since FY 2020.
The governor: This year, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority will formally launch the Innovation Evergreen Fund, a groundbreaking $500 million public-private investment partnership to continue New Jersey’s leadership in attracting entrepreneurs and venture capital. (The governor also is proposing a $20 million Diverse Developer Fund.)
The governor: Through this budget, we will continue to support our Cover All Kids initiative that is ensuring that every child in New Jersey has access to health care.
(The budget includes $17 million in state and federal funds for a program providing New Jersey parents with free home visits by a nurse shortly after a child’s birth. The budget also calls for $15 million in increased Medicaid spending on maternity care to boost reimbursement rates for clinicians, midwives and doulas — and $1 million in grants for midwifery training.)
Reaction: Making sure babies are born in a manner that is healthy and favorable for them and their mothers should be the bedrock of our community.
Opioids and gun control
The governor: We will continue our focused and data-driven fight against the epidemic of opioid abuse — a nearly $100 million investment that supports, importantly, the critical work of harm reduction centers, among so much more.
We will also continue to confront head-on the senseless gun violence that plagues far too many communities across our state. Last year’s budget included a historic $10 million investment in community-based violence intervention funding, and I am proud to maintain this commitment for the upcoming fiscal year.
Reaction: How could anyone be against these basic efforts to create a safer and healthier state?
The governor: Our administration is assessing what financial or business exposure we may have to the Russian government or Russian-owned business interests or securities — including in our pension funds.
And, let me make it perfectly clear — we will take whatever actions are needed to ensure New Jersey taxpayer dollars are not supporting (Vladimir) Putin’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine.
Reaction: Politico reports, citing sources within the Department of Treasury, that the state’s pension fund had $50 million in Russian investments at the end of February. And, while that seems like a lot, it is only a small fraction of funds that are worth $94 billion.
New Jersey has the fourth-highest number of Ukrainians among states in the country and is home to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
The final word
The governor: From Day One, my mission — and, I hope, our shared mission — has been clear: To build a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works for every family. To build our state from the bottom up and the middle out. To grow and strengthen the middle class. To make New Jersey more affordable for everyone. To create opportunity where none existed, to grow opportunity for those who had too little of it, and to ensure equal access to opportunity for all willing to work hard.
And this budget, driven by our Jersey values and building upon all we have accomplished so far, keeps us focused on this mission.