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NEW JERSEY — Gov. Phil Murphy set a bold goal for the coronavirus vaccine in his State of the State Address on Tuesday, saying his plan is to "vaccinate every willing New Jersey adult resident" to help get New Jersey back to normality (you can watch it, below).
He also pledged bigger support for schools, infrastructure needs, voting rights, the economy and social justice reforms as well as creating the framework for marijuana legalization.
"Through the tremendous work of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and her team of medical and scientific experts, and despite many obstacles, we have in place a plan to vaccinate every willing New Jersey adult resident — and hundreds of thousands have already rolled up their sleeves," Murphy said in his prepared remarks.
Murphy said six vaccine "mega-sites" are opening across the state, and vaccinations will be available in hundreds more places statewide.
"We have already streamlined the vaccination process to enhance efficiency and ensure that if you choose to receive your first vaccine dose, you’ll get the proper follow-up shot," he said.
He announced that residents can now visit COVID19.nj.gov/ vaccine to learn about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines available to New Jersey, noting that residents can pre-register for your own vaccination. The site provides the list of vaccine sites and other information. Read more here: NJ's COVID Vaccine Totals, New Sites: See How Your Area Is Doing
The Murphy administration also has set up a plan that outlines the waiting list for getting a vaccine. Read more here: When Can You Get COVID-19 Vaccine In NJ? Here's The New 2021 List
"And, as our statewide vaccination program continues to grow, we will begin to see the light on the horizon get a little brighter," he said. "Be assured, we will get back to being able to gather and celebrate with our families and friends. We will be able to see all our children back in the schools they love. We will see our economy recover and flourish."
You can watch the speech here:
Murphy described the coronavirus pandemic as a "stress test on the fabric of the state," particularly in schools. Schools across the state were thrust into a full-remote learning environment in March, he said, and many students have not returned to the classroom since, with many continuing to learn virtually.
"It has put an enormous strain on students, on parents, and on educators and school leaders," Murphy said. "None of this has been easy. I say that as your governor and as a parent. And, I also say, thank you for all you are doing."
Despite the issues schools have faced, Murphy said nothing may be more important than maintaining the state's reputation for having the best public schools in the country.
He pledged to address the "digital divide" that's creating problems for poorer students, pledging to work with school districts and provide funding to bridge the gap.
"We know we have room to do better, and to bring more schools, more students, and more communities, under that banner," Murphy said.
He spoke about last week's riots in Washington DC, in which a group of rioters attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 elections by storming the capitol.
"Across the nation, we have seen multiple attempts by some to diminish our democratic institutions, to try to turn baseless conspiracy theories into the basis for court challenges, and to silence the voices and throw-out the votes of many Americans," Murphy said. "We were all shocked to witness a mob, incited and supported by politicians at the highest levels of government, shamefully try to invalidate the votes of 158 million Americans through insurrection."
He said the way to defend democracy is to strengthen it. He said more New Jersey residents cast ballots in the 2020 elections than in any year previous, and he wants to see that continue by giving "more power back to the people."
"Now, it’s time to take the next step, and I am already working with the legislature to enact a true, in-person early voting law, among other measures, to further open up our democracy," Murphy said. "Regardless of your party affiliation, your vote is your voice and this country is better off when more of us are heard."
New Jersey residents turned out in historic numbers not just to vote for president and congress, but to approve recreational marijuana. But since that vote, lawmakers' efforts to start the process of legalizing marijuana have collapsed. Read more: Deal On NJ Marijuana Legalization Bill Collapses
On Tuesday, Murphy expressed hope to create a framework for legalization.
"Two months ago, you voted overwhelmingly to legalize adult-use marijuana, and begin the process of ending the racial imbalance that disproportionately penalizes black and brown people arrested for marijuana offenses," Murphy said. "We’re setting up a cannabis industry that will promote the growth of new small businesses, many of which will be owned by women, minorities, and veterans. This hasn't been an easy fight, nor has it happened as quickly as I would have liked, but we are in a better place, a smarter place, and a more just place than ever before."
Murphy highlighted accomplishments from his first three years in office and reaffirmed his commitment to leading New Jersey through the COVID-19 public health crisis and improving the lives of New Jersey’s families.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the address was pre-recorded without an audience at the Patriots Theater at the Trenton War Memorial and streamed on the Governor’s official social media channels.
“Although wounded deeply, we enter 2021 tougher than ever, wiser than before, and ready to move forward together,” said Murphy. “Despite the ongoing pandemic, our mission of making New Jersey a stronger and fairer state for every family has not changed. We’re proving that the best way to beat COVID-19 is by leaning in to smart investments with a forward-looking, principled vision for the future. Our priorities for the year ahead focus on the public health challenges at hand, while charting a path forward to build a stronger, fairer, and more resilient economy that works for every New Jersey family.”
Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Somerset/Morris/Union, led the Republican response to the address, saying that it’s time for the state to start to move away from raising taxes. He said Murphy and the Democrats have raised taxes 41 times, leading New Jersey to become the “most exited and most taxed state in the country.”
“In the next three to five months, the Democrats will no longer have the opportunity to point at Donald Trump, nor point at Chris Christie,” Bramnick said in a Zoom call with the media. “They will have to take on the responsibility of governing without any excuses. It is time to enact sane fiscal policies.”
He also blasted Murphy’s use of executive orders without input from the public, called the administration’s handling of the MVC a “nightmare," and said the handling of unemployment completely failed amid the pandemic.
Bramnick also said he and Murphy are personal friends, and political opponents need to "respect each other" after last Wednesday's riots in D.C.
“The people of New Jersey have shown great resilience and tenacity after a year that has been one of the most difficult in memory," Sen. Republican Leader Tom Kean, R-Union/Somerset/Morris/Essex, said. “The total lack of transparency from the administration has made it difficult for people to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The people of New Jersey need to hear of the governor’s reopening strategies for schools and downtowns, and they want clarity on a schedule for vaccinations. The Governor needs to be willing to work in an bipartisan manner with the Legislature. We could have prevented the policy failures that led to unnecessary deaths in our nursing and veterans homes, the closure of nearly one-third of New Jersey’s small businesses, and the unemployment of nearly two-million New Jerseyans. If Governor Murphy truly wants to make New Jersey stronger in the year ahead, he should learn from the mistakes of 2020 and work to build consensus with other elected leaders. That’s how we’ll achieve the best outcome for all New Jerseyans.”
Speaking separately to NJTV, State Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, pointed to an inability to pay unemployment benefits, the reopening of Motor Vehicle Commission centers, NJ Transit, coronavirus-related deaths in the state’s long-term care facilities and missing the deadline for the coronavirus vaccine as “missteps” for the Murphy administration.
“In all of those things, there’s been no accountability for what happened,” Bucco said. “There’s been no transparency. He refuses to release the metrics he uses in making these decisions. All of that plays a role in giving people hesitance whether or not we’re moving in the right direction.”
In her response, New Jersey Business Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka pointed to the state’s unemployment, saying the state has 34 percent fewer businesses than at this time in 2020.
The ones that have survived the pandemic continue to struggle, she said, calling on the governor to “end costly mandates and higher taxes” that are making things more difficult for small businesses.
“During a ‘State of New Jersey Business’ town hall held this week by the New Jersey Business Coalition, we heard those heartbreaking struggles from business owners and leaders from multiple industries, sensed their grave concerns, and even saw a few tears,” Sikerka said. “They desperately need help in the form of financial assistance in the long- and short-term, and they need hope that this administration will do more than wait for a vaccine to take hold for New Jersey’s greater population."
In his address, Murphy said the small business community "is the backbone not only of our local economies, but of our state’s economy."
"These are the shops and restaurants that turn a town into a community,” Murphy said in his speech. “This is why I am so excited about the prospects for the new business and job-creating recovery plan I signed five days ago – a package which I was proud to work on alongside numerous lawmakers, progressive advocates, private sector leaders, union leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and small business owners.”
He said the plan focuses turning the state’s brownfields into vibrant communities, eliminating food deserts, and ensuring protections for union workers.
“This is what change looks like. This is what putting people ahead of the powerful looks like,” Murphy said. “This is what focusing on Main Street looks like. This is what protecting today and planning for tomorrow looks like. The current economic emergency is something we haven’t faced since the great depression, 90 years ago, and the old ways of doing business weren’t going to build us back stronger or more resilient.”
Fair Share Housing Center Executive Director Adam Gordon applauded Murphy's support to quickly pass a bill that would head-off a housing crisis that would result from the pandemic.
"We echo the governor's call for quick passage of this crucial piece of legislation that would reaffirm the Legislature's commitment to social and racial justice," Gordon said. "Our elected officials must ensure that working families and people of color who have been hit hardest by this pandemic have a chance to recover - not just the wealthy and the politically connected. We also join with Governor Murphy in hailing Lieutenant Governor Oliver's leadership in building more affordable housing and confronting the scourge of homelessness in New Jersey. We look forward to working with the administration to increase funding for affordable housing programs that give a chance for working families, especially people of color and people with disabilities, to live close to good schools and jobs."
NJEA President Marie Blistan, Vice President Sean M. Spiller and Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty said in a joint statement that the address shows Murphy understands the challenges the state is facing and that he knows what it will take to overcome them.
"Our public schools, which are the best in the nation, will be at the center of our state’s recovery from this pandemic," they said. "Educators and families alike should be encouraged by his promise today that New Jersey’s students will have both the academic and social-emotional support they need to rebound and thrive. It is going to take sustained commitment to ensure that New Jersey’s students emerge from this challenging time healthy, strong and successful. We are committed to working with the Murphy administration and other education stakeholders to achieve that and to keep our schools the best in the nation."
Members of the New Jersey Organizing Project spoke about the opioid epidemic in their response.
"Because of COVID-19 we saw record spikes in overdose deaths last year," the group that advocates on behalf of residents in South Jersey and along the Jersey Shore said in a statement. "In order to save more lives in 2021, we need to dramatically expand access to tools and services that we know work, like funding free mail-based naloxone distribution and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) - including mobile units that meet patients in their own communities.
"And since we have been facing record budget challenges, this is also an opportunity to hold drug corporations accountable for the harms they’ve caused our communities by creating an opioid profits assessment. In addition to this, it will generate desperately needed funding to continue addressing the overdose crisis."
Murphy pointed to the state’s infrastructure plan that resulted in a “safer and more accountable NJ Transit” system.
“We proved the naysayers wrong by beating the deadline for federally mandated train-safety technology -- completing eleven years’ worth of work in less than three,” Murphy said. “As a new portal bridge rises along the Northeast Corridor, they’ll see our efforts to eliminate one of its most-frustrating choke points. This new commuter-rail bridge will not only improve the commutes for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans, but it will also stimulate local economies and provide thousands of new union jobs.
“Commuters will also see our efforts in the hiring and training of multiple classes of the new rail engineers we need to ensure on-time operations. We inherited a system with depleted ranks and, to date, we have added 94 new engineers with another 82 in training.”
He said that in 2021, the state will work with the federal government to finish the full gateway program, which will include new tunnels under the Husdon River.
He pointed to ethics reforms he introduced last year, saying the future will be powered by transparency, bold ideas, oversight and commitment, as well as clean energy.
“Just this year, we cemented our place as the country’s leader in offshore wind, announcing in South Jersey both the New Jersey wind port and a new manufacturing facility at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal,” Murphy said. “These key first investments in offshore wind manufacturing will bring up to 2,000 good-paying union jobs to our state, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments, and make us the nation’s offshore wind-energy leader.”
He said these jobs will focus on making the state’s environmental team as diverse as the state is, incorporation labor unions, environmental justice advocates, people of color, and women.
“And as the first state in the nation to incorporate climate change throughout our K-12 education standards, we’re laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s workforce,” he said.
Murphy emphasized the state's priorities for the coming year as part of his State of the State address:
Supporting small businesses and innovative startups to promote good-paying, future focused jobs to build New Jersey’s economy;
Solidifying New Jersey’s bridge and tunnel infrastructure along the Northeast Corridor through improvement projects at the Portal North Bridge and working with President-elect Biden to fund the Gateway Program and build new tunnels under the Hudson River;
Building our clean energy economy by bringing together stakeholders to assess New Jersey’s needs and develop a robust and equitable green jobs workforce development strategy;
Codifying a woman’s full reproductive rights into state law;
Transforming the justice system to eliminate the root causes of systemic racism and make New Jersey’s criminal justice system more transparent and fair;
Easing the burden of working parents by building out a robust and affordable child care support system;
Improving the overall healthcare system to make it more transparent, more accessible, and more affordable;
Instituting comprehensive ethics reforms to ensure transparency and accountability across government; and,
Expanding opportunities for safe and affordable housing by providing assistance to New Jersey’s renters and homebuyers, and giving renters impacted by the pandemic up to 30 months to make up for back rent.
In his address, the governor highlighted some of the accomplishments from his first three years in office, including:
Establishing an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, giving more than 1 million families a stronger foothold in the middle class, and allowing those who aspire to enter the middle class the means to do so;
Ensuring tax fairness through a millionaire’s tax, easing the property tax burden on middle-class families and seniors, and doing more to help fund our public schools;
Passing earned sick leave and expanding paid family and medical leave;
Making high-quality education more available and affordable to all with continued investments in pre-K and tuition-free community college;
Moving toward full funding of our schools by restoring more than $750 million in direct classroom funding since 2018;
Enacting sweeping and fundamental reforms to New Jersey’s incentives program that will fuel job-creating small businesses and innovative startups;
Restoring safety, service, and reliability to NJ Transit by completing the federally mandated Positive Train Control technology and the hiring of engineers, conductors, and bus operators;
Cementing New Jersey as the nation’s offshore wind-energy leader with the creation of the New Jersey Wind Port and new manufacturing facility at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, both of which will bring thousands of good-paying union jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments; and,
Reducing health care costs and eliminating surprise medical bills through our state-run health care exchange and the creation of the Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency.