New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is set to deliver the annual State of the State address Tuesday, capping off the Democrat’s first full year in control the Legislature and the executive branch.
Murphy said he will outline his plans to make New Jersey affordable for middle-class families, but observers noted that the speech also follows a year marked by some blunders for the first-time politician.
The relationship between Murphy and State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, was widely viewed as frosty, delaying action on major legislative items with broad support, such as a $15 minimum wage and legalized recreational marijuana.
“That is an incredible constraint on his ability to effectively govern,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “That adversarial relationship, in my view, should probably be at the top of his agenda in terms of rectifying it, because the Democrats in the Legislature increasingly are making him look bad.”
Murphy’s administration has also been rocked by allegations that officials took little action in response to allegations by staffer Katie Brennan that she was raped by a colleague, who got a job in state government after working on the governor’s transition team.
The state Legislature is conducting a series of public hearings to see whether Murphy officials broke state rules and determine if policies around sexual assault in state government should be strengthened.
The Rev. Charles Boyer, an activist and pastor at the Bethel AME church in Woodbury, praised Murphy for signing equal pay and paid sick leave legislation, as well as taking steps to make community college more affordable.
But Boyer also said he hoped the governor would make racial justice a priority in the coming years by signing legislation to require an independent prosecutor to investigate police-caused fatalities and ensuring that minority populations benefit from legalized recreational marijuana.
“I would hope the governor would do what the two houses have not done, which is mandate that some of this tax revenue [from legalized recreational marijuana] come back to communities of color, which have been devastated socially, economically, and by every measure by the war on drugs,” Boyer said.
According to his office, Murphy will outline plans for making New Jersey more affordable for middle-class families in his speech.
“We have made great progress over the last year building a stronger and fairer New Jersey, with vital investments in education, infrastructure, and our economy to grow and protect our middle class,” Murphy said in a statement. “But our work is far from done. This year’s State of the State will focus on continuing to make New Jersey a better, more affordable place to live, work, and raise a family.”
Murphy may also tout New Jersey Transit’s success in installing federally mandated automatic braking equipment on rail lines across the state, though continued service delays have kept the problems at the transit agency in full view of the public.
The State of the State speech begins at 2 p.m. in Trenton.