Murphy & Cuomo address States of their States

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Murphy touts achievements, announces new initiatives

Less than 24 hours after the New Jersey Legislature voted on hundreds of bills in a flurry of activity to close out the 218th Legislature, the Assembly and Senate held their reorganization ceremonies and then convened in the Assembly chambers to hear Governor Phil Murphy deliver his second State of the State address.

The Governor began his remarks by remembering the members of faith and law enforcement gunned down in Jersey City five weeks ago in a hate-inspired attack. Murphy committed to ensuring that communities of faith have the resources they need to keep houses of worship safe. He announced his Administration would expand the definition of – and penalties for – domestic terrorism.  And he pledged all the resources at his disposal to stamp out anti-Semitism.

Echoing themes from his campaign and his first two years in office, Murphy reiterated his promise to build an economy and a State that works for every New Jersey family. He weaved achievements from his first two years throughout his address, including the nation’s largest offshore wind solicitation; hiring of new classes of NJ TRANSIT conductors; addressing New Jersey’s infant and maternal mortality crisis; and private sector job growth.

Murphy called for enacting recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, including the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

He announced a new task force that includes government officials, academic researchers, and faith and community leaders to address wealth disparity.

The Governor announced that he will soon unveil New Jersey’s new Energy Master Plan, with specific steps for arriving at his goal of a 100-percent clean-energy economy by 2050.

One of the most sweeping initiatives announced by Murphy is a new “Jobs NJ” plan, designed to align New Jersey’s education system to meet the future needs of employers and workers, and match workers with potential employers. Murphy stated that job training will be a key feature of the plan; closing long-standing structural and race equality gaps and promoting the innovation economy will be intended outcomes. The Governor announced he would roll out the plan in more detail later in the week.

The Governor also renewed his long-standing call for a millionaires’ tax, an announcement that was not warmly received by legislators on either side of the aisle.

Murphy took on the tax incentive programs implemented during the Christie Administration and which have been the subject of intense scrutiny and political jousting primarily between Murphy and South Jersey political leaders. Murphy lamented that no action was taken before the end of the previous legislative session and renewed his call to reach agreement on a revised suite of incentives.

Murphy also teased the rollout of a series ethics reforms in the next few weeks intended to strengthen financial disclosures, tighten pay-to-play requirements, and expand transparency.

In response to recent news stories highlighting a long-standing culture of sexism, mistreatment of women and offensive, misogynistic behavior, Murphy called on legislative leaders to work together to enact needed reforms.

The full text of Governor Murphy’s address is here.

Reorganization of the New Jersey Legislature

The Senate and Assembly gaveled in the 219th Legislature in Trenton, shortly before Governor Phil Murphy delivered his second State of the State address.

Senator Steve Sweeney made history, becoming the longest-serving Senate President in New Jersey’s history after taking the oath of office for his sixth term. Craig Coughlin was sworn in for his second term as Assembly Speaker.

In an address to the Senate, Sweeney took credit for recent legislative wins including driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, gradually raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, ending the statute of limitations on sex abuse lawsuits and limiting non-disclosure agreements in cases of discrimination and harassment.

Seven new Assembly members were sworn in during the reorganization of the Legislature. Democrats will enjoy slightly smaller majorities in both houses in 2020; Republicans picked up one Senate seat and two Assembly seats in November’s election.

Finding common ground early in 2020 may be a challenge for the Governor, Senate President and Assembly Speaker, all Democrats. Ongoing disputes over tax incentive programs, ethics reforms, and NJ TRANSIT’s recovery, along with stalled action on the legalization of recreational marijuana will have to be overcome.

One area of common ground is likely to be lead remediation. Newark’s water crisis this past year highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach. Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin all highlighted the issue as a priority this year. Action on water infrastructure, lead remediation, and lead paint is all possible.

Cuomo promises to make progress happen

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State address on Wednesday January 8, 2020 in Albany.

Declaring “Making Progress Happen” as his slogan for the year, Cuomo delivered a series of progressive proposals against the backdrop of a $6 billion budget shortfall driven by skyrocketing Medicaid costs for New York State.  He had already rolled out 34 policy proposals in the weeks leading up to his address.

The Governor proposed a series of investments including solar energy in upstate New York and transmission lines to carry the power into New York City. These and other environmental investments would be funded through a $3 billion environmental bond act (to be presented as a statewide ballot initiative) and were introduced as components of of a statewide climate change program that also included a proposed ban on styrofoam food containers.

Cuomo renewed his call for a licensing model for adult-use cannabis, a proposal that failed last year for various reasons. In his State of the State, Cuomo called for New York to work with neighboring states New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut (none of which have yet legalized recreational marijuana) on joint action; he also paired his call with a proposed Global Cannabis and Hemp Center for Science, Research & Education at the State University of New York.

Cuomo also promised to advance regulations regarding the employment status of of “gig economy” workers  classified as independent contractors.

Implementing Cuomo’s State of the State agenda could be difficult considering the huge budget gap lawmakers face. The Cuomo Administration made deep cuts to Medicaid payments to healthcare facilities on New Years Eve. Cuomo may try to close the State’s $6 billion budget gap by shifting the burden for up to $4 billion in Medicaid costs to New York City. Cuomo separated his State of the State address and executive budget rollout for the first time in years, meaning that fiscal plans will be detailed in a separate address later this month. Cuomo bragged in his speech that he has never raised taxes as Governor but reaching a budget agreement will likely require horse trading with Democrats in the Legislature who have expressed an openness to raising taxes, particularly on the wealthy and on corporations, as an alternative to even deeper Medicaid cuts.

The full text of Governor Cuomo’s address is here.