Just about everything that happens in New Jersey these days is overshadowed by what’s happening in Ukraine.
And so it was today when an invocation and blessing by a Ukrainian Orthodox bishop captivated the state Legislature before Phil Murphy’s budget address even began. Lawmakers listened closely as the speaker detailed both the suffering in Ukraine today and expressed thanks for the overwhelming support from New Jersey officials and residents.
It was a very moving moment.
Then we got back to the reality of New Jersey politics.
Notwithstanding the pandemic, property taxes remain the biggest issue in New Jersey. And for probably the first time since he took the job, Murphy zeroed in on them.
He talked about an “ANCHOR” program that would provide $900 million in relief to 1.8 million, mostly middle and lower class households. The program would include both homeowners and renters, who, of course, pay property taxes through their rent.
This idea does not get to the root cause of why property taxes are high; nor does it try to lower them. But it would help people pay them, which is a good thing.
The governor also talked about more money for affordable housing, noting that this would help young people with entry-level jobs and also families just starting out.
Speaking about making New Jersey more “affordable” was no accident. The governor’s re-election victory was surprisingly close and the high cost of everything has been seen as one reason why.
Murphy also bragged about such accomplishments as raising the minimum wage, more aid to schools, which also can help stabilize property taxes, a pension contribution of $6.8 billion and increasing income taxes on millionaires.
That last observation allowed the governor to make a political point. Despite raising the state’s top tax bracket from 8.97 to 10.75 percent, he said the state now has more millionaires than it did a few years ago.
Republicans are fond of saying high taxes are driving the wealthy out of the state, so the governor wanted to counter that argument.
He also wanted to give the state a new name.
Or so it seemed.
More than once, he highlighted achievements and plans in the areas of education, the environment, health care and entrepreneurship and called New Jersey the Opportunity State. So much for the Garden State.
At the end of his address, Murphy pledged to have the backs of young people starting out, seniors looking to retire with dignity, hardworking families and small business owners.
“We are changing our state for the better,” he said.
One thing Murphy didn’t spend much time on was the pandemic, although he did mention that as of this week, the state no longer requires masks in schools.
And then he added, “More importantly, New Jersey is getting back to normal. Amen.”