Gov. Phil Murphy detailed the state of New Jersey as he sees it Tuesday afternoon in Trenton, six years after first taking the oath of office.
The annual address is an annual exercise in which the governor explains how far the state has come — and where it’s going.
We break down the key moments, offering our quick analysis along the way.
Moment of silence for Oliver and Fiordaliso
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The governor paid tribute to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso, both of whom passed away in 2023, with a moment of silence.
“This is the first time I have addressed this chamber without Sheila by my side — by all of our sides,” he said. “This place is not the same without her. And not just because she stole the show with her style and poise.
“But, because she brought out the best of us. She was the best of us.”
ROI-NJ: A touching tribute that carried the weight of the moment.
Murphy gave a special introduction to two new legislators:
- Assemblywoman Luanne Peterpaul (D-Monmouth County), the former Garden State Equality chair who is the first out female member of the LGBT community ever to serve in the Legislature.
- Assemblyman Al Barlas (R-Essex County), the first South Asian Republican to serve in the Legislature.
“Their historic presence — in this building — speaks to the fact that we are bound by something far, far bigger than politics,” he said. “Because, no matter our disagreements or political views, we are members of the same New Jersey family. And, we are all proud to be Americans.”
ROI-NJ: At a time when anything related to diversity is under fire, Murphy showed where he stands.
Murphy said his administration has more than doubled the growth rate of our state’s economy, creating nearly 200,000 jobs.
He noted how his ambitious property tax relief program has put nearly $2 billion back into the hands of taxpayers, approximately $1,750 in direct relief for each household. And he noted how the minimum wage is now over $15.
That being said, he admitted there are concerns about inflation and the cost of living — and vowed to work for New Jersey families.
“Today, I believe we can — and we must — put the American Dream back in reach for anyone willing to work for it,” he said.
ROI-NJ: Affordability always is the goal. Getting there is difficult. The governor went on to discuss ways he aims to do this.
Health care debt
Murphy took on an issue that still is crushing many: medical debt. He said it impacts 1 in 10.
“In the wealthiest nation in the world, nobody should have to worry about being able to afford critical health care services or a lifesaving medical procedure,” he said.
He introduced the Louisa Carman Medical Debt Relief Act (named in honor of the 25-year-old administration staffer who died in a car accident on New Year’s Day).
“Carman was a member of our Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency — and a major force behind this legislative package that aims to combat this issue,” Murphy said.
ROI-NJ: It’s a wonderful tribute to someone all adored, but efforts to control health care costs have long history of not being successful.
Murphy said New Jersey has emerged as a national leader in expanding affordable housing, and that he wants to build new housing options where they are needed most — in locations close to jobs, transit hubs and Main Street businesses.
Murphy said he will sign legislation — led by Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Clark), Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown) and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy) — to make it a whole lot easier to build more affordable housing, efficiently and equitably.
ROI-NJ: Like plans to reduce health care costs, plans to create more affordable housing (however you define that) often do not have the impact intended.
Murphy called on the state to redouble its commitment to bringing universal pre-K to all of New Jersey. To ensure that every family — regardless of their economic status — can afford to send their child to a safe, enriching environment during the day.
ROI-NJ: Everyone is for this.
Small business assistance
Murphy pointed to the state’s nation-leading pandemic relief and Main Street revitalization programs, saying it invested nearly $1 billion into helping small businesses stay afloat.
ROI-NJ: Almost every other state used federal funds to pay down the Unemployment Insurance shortfall.
Murphy proudly noted how the state broke ground on the Jersey side of the Hudson Tunnel Rail Project.
“One of the biggest policy failures in our state’s history was when the last administration abandoned this project,” he said. “We are correcting that mistake. We are moving full speed ahead in completing the Hudson Tunnel Rail Project.”
ROI-NJ: He didn’t bring up the pending $1 billion New Jersey Transit budget deficit.
Murphy noted how his decision and drive to make full pension payments and better fund public education has resulted in credit upgrades — something everyone benefits from.
“The Office of Public Finance says that these upgrades will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over time — if the state remains on a fiscally responsible course,” he said.
ROI-NJ: Some were against this idea when Murphy took office. Hard to find anyone taking that position now.
Voting rights. LGBTQ+ rights. Reproductive rights — and the right to an abortion.
“There is no sugarcoating it,” he said. “Women’s health care in America is in a state of crisis. So, when I talk about making New Jersey the best place to raise a family — that also means ensuring every woman has the freedom to start a family on their own terms.”
Murphy said later this year — thanks to the leadership of Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Ewing Twp.) and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton) — the state will take another step: Women will be able to walk into a New Jersey pharmacy and buy birth control without a prescription.
Murphy called on the Legislature to pass a bill — sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Newark) — to scrap out-of-pocket costs for abortion procedures and protect patients and providers.
“Let us do it before the summer,” he said. “We cannot lose any momentum in the fight for fundamental freedoms.”
ROI-NJ: Hard to be against freedom. Stunning that some are.
Murphy noted historic funding to community-based violence prevention efforts — empowering residents in cities like Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Trenton and more, he said.
“We are saving lives,” he said. “And making New Jersey a safer place to raise a family.”
At the same time, in improving public safety, Murphy said the state also is taking steps to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
“We have more to do,” he said. “We must continue reforming a justice system that has failed Black and brown communities for far too long. That means undoing the damage of the failed War on Drugs. And helping our neighbors who have been unjustly thrown behind bars get back on track.”
In that spirit, Murphy said in the coming months that he will be announcing a new clemency initiative that “will ensure we live up to our promise as the state for second chances.”
ROI-NJ: It certainly needs to be done, but it is always hard to thread the needle on criminal justice reform.
Murphy said the state is a model for voting rights and voting procedures, pointing to early in-person voting, the establishment of online voter registration — and restored voting rights to more than 80,000 people on probation or parole.
Murphy noted he signed a bill — authored by Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Hillsborough) — allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the time of the general election.
He said he continues to support passing same-day voter registration in New Jersey.
“Nobody should ever be denied access to the ballot box because they missed a deadline or forgot to send in paperwork,” he said.
He’s also asking the Legislature to send to a voting rights bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections.
ROI-NJ: Voter turnout is stunningly low for those over 18 — here’s hoping a potential younger electorate will have spur change.
Murphy said he hopes to work with educators and legislators to improve literacy rates among children using phonics methods.
He had a great line: “Increasing literacy rates makes New Jersey better — because reading books is always better than banning books,” he said.
ROI-NJ: Who’s against making gains in literacy?
Murphy noted the state’s clean-energy goals — 100% clean energy by 2035 — are still the standard. For a number of reasons.
“This is not just about doing what is right for our planet,” he said. “This is also about creating a generation of good-paying jobs in the industries that will — literally — power our future, like offshore wind and solar.
“And clean energy is just one example of how we are reclaiming our state’s legendary legacy in innovation … to create economic opportunities for all.”
ROI-NJ: Recent challenges make many wonder if these goals are realistic.
Murphy talked of that “classic, Jersey spirit — of ingenuity and invention”.
He noted Netflix coming to Fort Monmouth; SciTech Scity coming to Jersey City; and Bell Labs moving to the Helix in New Brunswick.
“In just about every category, from life sciences to fintech, from film and television production to offshore wind, New Jersey is paving the way forward,” he said. “Because innovation is both our heritage and our future.”
ROI-NJ: Creating an innovation economy has been a priority of the governor since he was candidate Murphy. He’s nailed this as much as any other aim.