New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy gave his first State of the State address before an audience composed of legislators, his cabinet secretaries, former governors and the state Supreme Court members, putting a happy face on despite the fact that much of his agenda failed to come to fruition.
Although he essentially declarerd that his 2018 wish list would remain his prriorities in the year ahead, he began the speech by pivoting to a new crisis.
“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,” said Murphy. “One year ago, tomorrow, I took the oath of office as New Jersey’s 56th governor. Three days later, on January 19, 2018, I ordered a full and complete audit by State Comptroller Degnan of our tax incentive programs.”
State auditors found that an economic development agency improperly doled out $200 million in corporate welfare and failed to substantiate 2,993 jobs as having been created, during the previous administration.
Describing his first year in office, Murphy claimed success on some of his campaign promises, like a few gun-control measures and paid sick leave, amounting to 169 new laws — which he claimed as some kind of record.
He largely glossed over broken promises on marijuana legalization, a $15 minimum wage, immigrant driver licenses and a public bank, talking about most of these first year failures as if they were fresh ideas.
Murphy said there is still “much to do” and called on lawmakers to set the minumum wage at $15 an hour and legalizing the “adult use of marijuana,” a goal he promised to accomplish in his first 100 days in office.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany, has failed to negotiate the path through politics in Trenton. The governor suffered a humiliating setback in budget negotiations when he was unable to win support for his proposed tax increases.
Murphy could be looking at a multi-billion dollar deficit next year. The state treasurer says tax collections have been so far off that New Jersey needs another $680 million by June 30 to balance the current budget.
Senate President Steve Sweeney recently said the state will have to increase pension contributions by $3.2 billion to $6.7 billion over the next four years, plus $700 million to cover health benefit cost increases.
Murphy did not explain how he intends to come up with that money.
After raising taxes more than $1 billion last year, Murphy will have trouble convincing lawmakers to provide the billions in additional revenue he needs to fully fund the state worker pension system and increase school funding.
Senate President Steve Sweeney has signaled that tax hike proposals from the governor will be dead on arrival, including a millionaires’ tax, which Democratic lawmakers passed and put on former Gov. Chris Christie’s desk five times in the previous eight years.
Murphy did not mention a legislative investigation into his hiring practices, which was launched after he appointed an accused rapist to a senior staff position and hired a former councilman convicted of bribery to a $70,000 job in the state education department.
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