MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy held a town hall meeting at The Woodland in Maplewood on Jan. 29, speaking to area residents about state government initiatives and answering several questions from members of the audience. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who represents New Jersey’s 27th Legislative District, introduced Murphy at the event.
“We found we had much in common,” Jasey said in her introduction, talking about the first time she and Murphy met, before he announced his intention to run for governor. “I’m proud to say I was one of the first to endorse him.”
In his speech, Murphy highlighted the progress he believes his administration has made in his two years in office.
“We are on a path to $15-an-hour minimum wage,” he said. “We have the strongest equal pay in the United States of America. We said we would fund Planned Parenthood on Day 1, and we funded Planned Parenthood. We said we would have the strictest gun laws, and we do. We became the first state to offer arts education in every public school.”
In a town with a large commuter population, Murphy spent a lot of time talking about New Jersey Transit and the near-constant delays and cancellations that happen on the trains to New York City.
“We will fix NJ Transit if it kills me, and it might,” Murphy joked at the event. “We’ve been dealt the best location in the country, with New York across one river and Philadelphia across the other. We’ve got to move people and things around our state better than anyone.”
He said that while the right people are in place at NJ Transit to fix the problems, there are still things that need work.
“We have an app, which is not perfect, but it works,” Murphy said. “We’re about to make a big investment on buses. But the big X factor is we need more tunnels under the Hudson River.”
Funding for more tunnels to New York would have to come from the federal government, and the governor said it’s something for which state officials will continue to lobby. Murphy also talked about high property taxes across the state — an issue close to home for many Essex County residents.
“The wealth disparity in this state is staggering,” he said. “We’re not happy with the state of the property tax rates, and we are going to fix that.”
In his explanation, Murphy said that if the state invests more money in education, it would take pressure off local taxpayers paying for the public education system. He also talked about a millionaire’s tax he wants to put into effect, which would tax people with an income more than $1 million per year at a higher rate than those who make less than $1 million per year.
“In addition, it’s not just good value for money,” Murphy said. “Families move places not just because of value. They want health care, LGBTQ rights, gun safety and immigration reform.”
He mentioned other issues the state is facing, such as the opioid epidemic, health care costs, middle class tax cuts, ethics reform and legalizing recreational marijuana. Murphy ended the meeting by encouraging everyone, especially young people, to vote in November’s election.
“2020 is a big year,” he said. “No matter what side you’re on, you can’t sit this one out. We must open it up to everyone to participate. In so many respects, we are the most diverse state. We wear that as a badge of honor, and it is one of the things that makes us better. But our work is not done. We have a distance still to travel.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic