Murphy Seeks More Transparency, But Says ‘Mission’ Unchanged

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at the State of the State address in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Arriving at the halfway mark of his first term, New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy delivered his second State of the State address on Tuesday, defending progressive policies he’s pursued and promising again to raise taxes on the rich.

He also called on lawmakers to respond to citizens’ “rightful cynicism” about government with greater transparency.

Murphy, a former executive at Goldman Sachs and an ambassador to Germany under Barack Obama, stuck closely to themes he’s outlined since his earliest days campaigning to succeed Republican Chris Christie: giving more money to schools to meet mandated education funding levels, paying the public pension and shoring up New Jersey Transit’s operations and reputation.

“Even as the new year unfolds, our mission does not change,” Murphy said.

He also promised long-term plans for transit, which he said hadn’t previously existed, as well as new offices for health-care transparency and a task force to study wealth disparity. He said he is also launching an initiative called Jobs NJ aimed at helping workers and employers match up.

Republicans, in the minority in state government, panned the speech. GOP state chairman Doug Steinhardt said Democrats only argue over how much to raise taxes.

“New Jersey is in the throes of an affordability crisis and Trenton Democrats are tone deaf to its residents’ needs,” he said in a statement.

Murphy foreshadowed what would be his third attempt at passing a higher income tax on people who make more than $1 million. It was a core campaign promise that has gone unmet because of legislative reluctance.

“I am not giving up the fight for a millionaire’s tax, so we can ease the property tax burden,” Murphy said, as he was interrupted by loud applause.

In New Jersey, property taxes are assessed at the local level and go to pay for schools, among other things. The state has among the highest property taxes in the country, but the state Constitution requires state income taxes to go toward property tax relief, which in practice means state aid for schools.

The governor also said he will establish a task force aimed at studying wealth disparity. He said the task force would include government officials, academics and faith and community leaders and would inform efforts to close wealth gaps in the state.

Murphy also raised the fatal December attack on a kosher grocery store in Jersey City that left three people dead in the market, as well as Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, who was killed by the attackers at a nearby cemetery before the shootout.

Murphy called the attacks an “act of hate,” and momentarily called attention to Seals’ widow, as well as the Jersey City police chief who attended.

“Let us commit to using this new year to heal the rifts in our society,” Murphy said.