N.J. Gov. Murphy focuses on affordability and AI in his State of the State address

The governor wants to target medical debt to help families, and to position the Garden State as a leader in generative AI.

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the statehouse, in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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For his sixth State of the State address, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tackled a myriad of issues from housing affordability and taxes to reproductive rights, universal Pre-K, criminal justice reform, voting rights and medical debt resolution. He also issued a call for positioning New Jersey as a potential leader in the realm of generative AI.

“We may be a small state, but we have always thought and acted big,” he said. “And it is time to start thinking and acting big about generative AI.”

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Dist. 15) thought Murphy “was firing on all cylinders.”

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“He has a very, very comprehensive and very dynamic agenda for this year,” she said.

Asm. Erik Simonsen (R-Dist. 1) said he believes there is common ground on a lot of issues the governor raised in his speech.

“I think we’re in bipartisan agreements on a large majority of things he talked about,” he said.

On certain issues, where opinions do differ, he expressed keeping an open mind.

“I’m always open to negotiation and to hear other people’s opinions,” he added.

GOP Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio was not impressed.

“The reality is the governor was talking some pie-in-the-sky things, our whole tax burden on our society is pretty much miserable,” he said.

‘Working even harder’ to make New Jersey more affordable

With world events, including a rise in hate crimes and the two wars overseas, as the backdrop, Murphy said “building a stronger, fairer, more inclusive New Jersey has never been more necessary.”

The governor is calling for a package of bills that helps families avoid medical debt and requires doctor bills “to be clear and transparent.”

“Pulling people out from crushing medical debt is vital,” he said. “But so is protecting them from falling down that hole in the first place.”

Murphy asked that the first part of the package be named for Louisa Carman, an aide to the governor who was killed in a car crash on New Year’s Day.

Citing a shortage of affordable housing units, the governor called for accessible homes to be built where they are needed most: “close to jobs, transit hubs, and Main Street businesses.”

The governor also announced a new clemency initiative and renewed his support for universal pre-K and same-day voter registration.

Republican leaders said the Democrat-controlled Legislature has failed to offer relief to residents and not enough is being done to stop taxes from rising in the first place.

“New Jersey is the single most unaffordable state in the nation,” said state Senate Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon. “If we improve on that marginally I guess you could pound your chest and say that’s a wonderful thing, but our affordability situation still sucks, we are still the highest taxed state in the nation.”

Murphy also asked the Legislature to give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local school board elections and encourage the youth to engage in the democratic process.

“I know, to some, this proposal may sound unconventional. But voting is a lifelong habit,” he said. “Studies show that if a person votes in one election, they are more likely to turn out in the next election.”

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The governor said he wants to work with educators and legislators to improve literacy rates in the state. Among all grade levels, 51.3% of students reached proficiency levels on the state’s English language arts test last spring. That trails behind pre-pandemic levels.

“Increasing literacy rates makes New Jersey better,” Murphy said,, while criticizing his counterparts for leading efforts to remove certain books from schools.

“Because reading books is always better than banning books.”

The ‘AI moonshot’

Citing the Garden State’s place as a home for science and technology, Murphy said New Jersey needs to “lead the world” in generative AI.

“I believe we are at the dawn of a new era, much like we were thirty years ago, with the internet,” he said, while issuing what he called “an AI moonshot.”

“Our mission is for our state’s top minds to pioneer a series of AI-powered breakthroughs, over the next decade, that will change the lives of billions for the better.”

Murphy named Beth Noveck, the state’s chief innovation officer, as the first-ever chief AI strategist, and said that Noveck and Chris Rein, the state’s chief technology officer, have already begun to train state employees to use generative AI to help residents access benefits and services. The governor also touted his efforts that led to the state’s new partnership with Princeton University for the creation of an AI innovation hub.

Republicans said they would rather Murphy focus on basic needs.

“He is talking way down the road, things that sound great, they’re helping a lot of big stock market names right now but we have fundamental, basic needs in New Jersey,” DiMaio said.  The governor talked about making New Jersey a world leader in generative artificial intelligence but “we can’t even get unemployment checks out of the Labor Department when people are unemployed,” he said.

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