Gov. Phil Murphy delivered his annual State of the State address at the Statehouse in Trenton on Jan. 10, highlighting his commitment to education. It was the first time in three years a crowd gathered to hear his remarks in person.

A theme he emphasized throughout the speech revolved around building the “next” New Jersey – one that is ready to lead the way for our nation. “It is my mission, and ours, to make this state work from the middle out and the bottom up,” he said.

For many, however, the notion of the American Dream is harder to achieve than it was in years past. “And that is why I am dedicated to creating pathways to opportunity,” he said.

One of those pathways “just got wider,” he said, noting how the minimum wage recently increased to $14.13 per hour, as reported in School Board Notes.

Touting the state as “where opportunity lives, where education is valued, where justice is embraced, where comparison is the norm, and where the American Dream is alive and well,” he added that New Jersey is not just a model for the nation but is leading the nation. “Leading by centering our economic future around our best-in-the-nation public education system so every child, in every community, is given the skills they will need to compete and win,” he said. He added, “Leading in prioritizing youth mental health through comprehensive means that don’t just connect kids with resources but empower parents and educators to identify negative signs and provide positive support … [l]eading in protecting our communities from senseless gun violence, with carefully crafted laws that keep guns out of our most vulnerable places.” (The governor recently signed a bill into law that expands the list of sensitive places where individuals cannot carry firearms, including schools and school buses, as reported in School Board Notes.)

The governor received a prolonged standing ovation when he said, “Let us never forget that in the grand ranking of things, we are partisans fourth, elected officials third, New Jerseyans second, and Americans first and foremost.”

He also highlighted the state’s efforts to bring property tax relief to residents, noting that the ANCHOR Property Tax Relief Program has invested $2 billion in direct property tax relief. “This is money going right back into the pockets of roughly two million New Jersey middle-class and working homeowners, seniors and tenants – households in which well more than half of all our residents live. For more than a million homeowners, ANCHOR’s direct relief will effectively undo years of property tax increases – even up to a decade’s worth.”

He added that the state has continued to increase its investment in public schools “to take further pressure off of property taxpayers – a total increase of more than $2 billion since our administration took office. And every penny of that is property tax relief.”

The state also gave parents a sales-tax holiday on the back-to-school items that their children needed to get a strong start at school this past September.

In seven weeks, Murphy will return to the Statehouse to unveil his proposal for the upcoming fiscal year 2024 state budget. “Making New Jersey more affordable for our families and seniors will again be central in the plan I will present to you,” he said. “But I remain incredibly proud of the work we have done together in this current budget to make our state more affordable.”

He also addressed COVID-19, which “remains a public health reality, even though the numbers of people in our hospitals are less than one-third of what they were one year ago, and half of what they were two years ago.” He added that the flu and RSV are combining to complicate things, but vaccines, booster shots and flu shots can help keep residents healthy.