It was a rainy Tuesday evening as New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy visited Rowan University to not only discuss the state of New Jersey politics, but also address some of the future plans the state has in store in regards to affordability, the economy, and job growth.
Hosted by the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship (RIPPAC), Governor Murphy was welcomed with enormous applause and thanks by Rowan President Ali Houshmand, Director of RIPPAC Dr. Benjamin Dworkin, Rowan students and faculty, and former New Jersey Governor James Florio.
Considered one of the most progressive governors in the country, Phil Murphy has been at the forefront of every major piece of legislation in New Jersey since his election in 2017. Though Murphy called upon for “a spirit of cooperation” between himself and Senate President Steve Sweeney, he is nonetheless proud of what he has accomplished with the state legislature.
From signing legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15-an-hour to combating gender wage discrimination, it goes without saying that Governor Murphy has surely succeeded in enacting his pledge to build a New Jersey that works for the middle class.
“A middle class,” Murphy said “that was ravaged in the previous administration. Because of that, we aimed to make New Jersey stronger and fairer for working families.”
Even though Governor Murphy has a right to be proud of some of the things New Jersey has accomplished, one of the many sources of frustration for him since taking office has been the dilapidated condition of New Jersey Transit, particularly in South Jersey. Among the opening questions that were asked during the event, one primarily focused on NJ Transit and what it means for South Jersey once operational.
“We will fix NJ Transit if it kills me. And it might!,” Murphy humorously stated. “In all seriousness, when you have mass transit in places that desperately need growth, economic development will follow suit. We’re certainly getting there, but it won’t be overnight.”
However, one of the most discussed topics throughout the night was affordability in New Jersey. With New Jersey having one of the highest property taxes in the country, selling New Jersey to the next generation hasn’t always been so easy. Particularly with recent New Jersey college graduates, who’ve been leaving droves to places where it’s both affordable to live, and with a robust job market.
“In the last administration we weren’t fair to the middle class, and the economy didn’t grow,” Murphy explained. “Growing the economy is a top priority for me, particularly in job growth and wage growth. I often say, ‘If we’re going to grow the economy, then let’s grow the damn economy.’ We gotta keep our education number one, and we have to make it affordable for our young people to live and stay in New Jersey.”
The topic of affordability for young New Jerseyans is one of the few issues that both Governor Murphy and Senate President Sweeney largely agree on. When Senator Sweeney visited Rowan in February, he was very much concerned about other states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, enticing young people to leave New Jersey.
“They take our bright young people,” Sweeney said in February, “and when they leave they don’t come back. When we make it so expensive that it’s cheaper to go out of state to go to school, that’s when you know you have a problem. We can’t keep having our talented young New Jerseyans leave the state due to our inability to make it affordable for them to live here.”
As the governor ended his open discussion, students were appreciative of his visit yet skeptical of some of the things he highlighted in regard to affordability.
SGA President Arielle Gedeon felt that more information on affordability was needed to further develop an idea of how young people can stay in New Jersey.
“I was grateful that the governor took the time to visit Rowan University and I felt that the speech he gave tonight was very informative,” Gedeon said. “However, I feel there should’ve been more information on the topic of affordability. A lot of students, including myself, will not be living in New Jersey after we graduate because it’s too expensive to do so unfortunately. I was really looking forward to more information about how to further New Jersey student success after college.”
Junior, political science major, Jason Brooks was equally skeptical and felt that the governor’s stance on taxes was incredibly hypocritical, especially regarding tax rates in the state.
“I’m glad the governor took the time to visit Rowan University. I understand that there was always some beef between him and Senate President Sweeney, and I appreciate a lot of what the governor said,” Brooks stated. “However, I feel a lot of it was very hypocritical in his tax message. A recent, nonpartisan survey had New Jersey business tax climate dead last and he’s talking about a ‘fair tax code and climate for everybody’, and I just find that very hypocritical.”
Also, Among the audience members in the Eynon Ballroom were AFT union members of Rowan University. Both the Rowan and Murphy administrations have yet to renew the educator’s contracts, and this resulted in a rally to bring to light their lack of a contract. During his visit, the governor barely acknowledged the contract impasse.
A three-quarter faculty member in Rowan’s department of geology, Sara Cribbs, wasn’t at all surprised with the governor’s lack of response to the contract negotiations.
“I’m not terribly surprised that he didn’t mention it,” Cribbs said. “There is a myriad of things that needs to be addressed, but again I wasn’t surprised he didn’t discuss or go into length about the contract negotiations.”
With all the faults on affordability, tax rates, and education in New Jersey, Vice President of Media Relations Joe Cardona, feels incredibly optimistic about the future of the state, as well as the governor’s role in it.
“I feel the governor gave a very productive speech,” Cardona said. “We have the best education in the country, and not a lot of people talk about how people both around the country and around the world come to New Jersey for that. Certainly, we can do more to improve affordability in the state, and given our recent growth with our economy and job market, I’m confident that we’ll be able to solve that dilemma.”
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