Earlier this week, Governor Phil Murphy delivered his annual State of the State address, offering a vision of New Jersey where we can raise the standard of living, strengthen our communities, and build a thriving economy. But in a speech centered on creating opportunity for all, there were few details or new proposals on how we’d get there as a state, with little mention of the lives and experiences of New Jersey families living paycheck-to-paycheck.
To make New Jersey more affordable for working-class and low-income families, the state needs ambitious investments in those who have historically been left behind in the policy-making process — by fully funding our schools, creating more affordable housing, and expanding working family tax credits — and a fair tax code that can sustainably funds such investments. New Jersey’s prosperity must be shared with the many, not hoarded by the few, especially if we want to expand opportunity for all who call the Garden State home.
Below are the rapid reactions of what was in address — and what was missing — from policy analysts Sheila Reynertson, Peter Chen, and Marleina Ubel.
Senior Policy Analyst (Tax and Budget)
In his State of the State address, Governor Murphy went out of his way to distinguish New Jersey from other states that favor deep tax cuts over high-quality education and healthy communities. But make no mistake: New Jersey’s current economic success is in spite of a tax code that remains rigged in favor of uber-wealthy families and giant corporations with record-breaking profits, undermining public services that create opportunity and help communities thrive.
Similarly, Governor Murphy conflated New Jersey being a leader in new and emerging industries with his offerings of corporate tax subsidies, as though businesses would have never chosen to expand in the Garden State without them. This is simply not true. Taxes are rarely at the top of the list of reasons why businesses would choose to relocate or expand in a state. And an ever-larger body of evidence clearly demonstrates that tax subsidies have a much lower rate of return on investment than people-centered investments like affordable child care, pre-K education, and college tuition aid — the tried and true building blocks of a strong state economy.
Instead of more corporate tax cuts and credits, lawmakers should demand corporations pay what they truly owe so that New Jersey can fund programs that foster opportunity for all:
- Stop the $600 million corporate business tax cut for New Jersey’s wealthiest corporations scheduled to take effect Jan 1, 2024.
- Close the giant tax loopholes that multistate and multinational corporations use to shift taxable income out of state and invest those funds in programs that support working families and strong communities.
Senior Policy Analyst (Children and Families)
For a speech that focused at the outset on pathways of opportunity in New Jersey, there were few new policies highlighted for kids and families.
Although there was a much-needed victory lap for more funding for schools and a state-level child tax credit, concerns facing families with children such as child care, preschool, and housing costs got little air time, even though Governor Murphy and the Legislature have made progress in those areas. Considering PK-12 schools account for nearly half the state’s annual budget, it was surprising to see education get less attention than liquor licenses and soccer.
But what are the policies that will help make a fair shot at economic success a reality for New Jersey families? A few suggestions:
- Expand working family tax credits: The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit both put money back in families’ pockets to help them pay for basic costs. Expanding these two programs would give families the cash they need to meet New Jersey’s high cost of living.
- Reform cash assistance programs: WorkFirst New Jersey needs reform to help people in extreme poverty get back on their feet and stop the cycle of poverty. These reforms almost crossed the finish line once. Without a cash assistance program that focuses on ending poverty instead of punishing it, opportunity will remain an illusion.
Policy Analyst (Criminal and Legal Systems)
The Governor spent a great deal of his speech focused on “justice,” security, and safety. Unfortunately, those words were tied to exaggerated rhetoric around car thefts, which are already declining. The Governor also touted some questionable criminal justice investments and policy priorities, like spending $10 million dollars of American Rescue Plan funds on automated license plate recognition technologies for law enforcement and allowing police to pursue stolen vehicles in high-speed chases — a reckless and, frankly, deadly policy change.
This approach to criminal justice is a theme in Trenton, unfortunately. There is also pending legislation that would ramp up the penalties for stealing a car to a second-degree crime, a change that is most likely to harm young Black and brown residents. Increasing penalties and enforcement does not work. It has never worked. “Tough on crime” approaches do not lead to security and safety, and they certainly do not advance “justice.”
Some ways to make New Jersey a more just state?
- Eliminate public defender’s fees: Public defenders in the state of New Jersey come with a price tag, and in many municipalities, an application fee. Constitutional rights should not be behind a paywall. Residents in New York and Pennsylvania do not have to pay for public defenders and neither should the people who need them most in New Jersey.
- Pass legislation to hold police accountable: A variety of bills have been languishing in the legislature. Black and brown New Jerseyans have been asking for policies that will make their communities safer, and these bills are among top priorities. None of them have made it to the Governor’s desk.
There was, however, a high point in the speech concerning harm reduction services, which do improve the safety and well-being of communities. New Jersey is going to be the first state in the nation to allow any pharmacy to provide anonymous and free Naloxone to any person, any time. This will undoubtedly save lives and is an important step in undoing the harms caused by the War on Drugs.