UNION, NJ – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy spoke to a standing room only crowd at a town hall style meeting in Union Monday night at the Senior Center. Kicking off the meeting, the Pledge of Allegiance was led by the Union High school Army JROTC Color Guard. The National Anthem was performed by six-year old ‘Union’s Got Talent’ winner Brianna Cameron.
Prior to introducing Gov. Murphy, Union Mayor Michele Delisfort said, “as the mayor of Union, I am humbled and honored to tirelessly serve the hardworking people of this township. By in large, our residents embody the very definition of middle class. The Township Committee and I take responsibility of preserving those values very seriously. Collectively, we share a vision to continue to move Union forward with commitment to democracy, diversity, opportunity, transparency and inclusiveness. To be a resident of union in 2019, means we hold these values near and dear to our heart.”
In his opening remarks, Murphy said, “we stand for a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works not just for some, but for everybody. We don’t believe that you can make economic progress without social progress, nor social progress without economic progress.” Murphy outlined some of his administration’s early accomplishments, including the state’s path to a $15/hour minimum wage, mandating earned sick leave, strong equal pay for equal work laws, expanded work leave, funding for Planned Parenthood, addressing the inequities in the criminal justice system, working with homeowners in foreclosure and with students suffering under an enormous burden of debt. “Those are all steps that work for the individuals who are impacted, but they work for the rest of us. We’re a stronger society. We’re a stronger economy as a result of that. That’s the general value statements that we believe deeply in.”
Elected officials at the meeting included Union County Freeholders Bette Jane Kowalski, Alexander Mirabella, Angel Estrada, Angela Garretson, Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded, and Rebecca Williams,
Assemblywoman Linda Carter, Union County Surrogate James LaCorte, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli, Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau, Garwood Mayor Sara Todisco, Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese, and Linden Mayor Derek Armstead.
From the Murphy administration cabinet, New Jersey Commissioner of the Department of Transportation Diane Gutierrez-Scacetti, who was born in Union, attended the meeting, as did New Jersey Commissioner of Health Judy Persichilli and the Adjutant General for the New Jersey National Guard and leader of the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs General Jemal Beale.
“We’ve had the fourth consecutive month in a row of the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the state of New Jersey,” said Murphy He said his administration is constantly focused on “up-skilling” workers in the state, “so they can get not just a job, but a better job”. Murphy announced that last month New Jersey beat out Massachusetts as being rated the number one public education system in America.
Murphy enthusiastically stated that New Jersey is not only number one in America, but the first state in the history of America to offer arts education universally to all students in every public school in the state.
Specific to Union, Murphy said for two consecutive budgets, Union has received state money to fund Pre-K expansion to now house a full-day Pre-K program.
Murphy said New Jersey has the highest concentration of scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere in the world. He said New Jersey is the 11th the largest state in the nation in terms of population; with the 9th the largest economy. “We are the most diverse state in America,” said Murphy.
Regarding campaign promises, Murphy said there are a “few on there that we are frustrated by,” including tax fairness, the millionaire’s tax in particular. “We had partial success last year, but don’t have the full success we need. We need to get fairness to level the playing field out.”
Murphy spoke of values and said New Jersey has the safest gun safety laws in the country, has a real agenda for a one hundred percent clean energy New Jersey by 2050 including the largest off-shore wind development in the entire world. “We care deeply and no one stands stronger on behalf of their LGBTQ+ community than the State of New Jersey.” He said New Jersey will have the most sensible, forward-looking immigration policies than any other state in America.
“It’s not just good value for money which we work on every single day,” said Murphy at the conclusion of his prepared remarks. “It’s the best values in America.”
Starting the question and answer period, an SCIU employee asked about the lead water crisis in Newark. Murphy outlined short, medium and long-term fixes that are in place or planned, including a comprehensive program to replace all lead service lines in the state within ten years. “Access to clean drinking water is not a privilege, it’s a right,” added Murphy.
Nancy Minneci, Union Board of Education President asked Murphy to comment on increased school aid and the prospects for the future. “We’ve now had two back-to-back historic years of school aid,” responded Murphy. “Union got a big up-tic last year and a smaller up-tic this year.” He said the way to ensure the future is with tax fairness, particularly the millionaire’s tax. “I don’t know what the increases will be but we’ll do our level best.”
A question about enrolling in the Affordable Care Act was asked. Murphy said information can be found at the state’s website: getcoverednj.org. He said the enrollment period begins Nov 1 through Dec. 15. Murphy said the Trump administration cut the enrollment period in half and “the amount of money that we have to promote the enrollment period. It’s part of the reason we are building our own state exchange.”
Murphy responded to a question about getting local school teachers Chapter 78 relief by saying, ”we have to turn that around,” He said many educators are taking home less take-home pay in 2019 than they did in 2010. “I’m optimistic something will happen. It has to happen,” said Murphy. Cryan added that this is his bill in the Senate and “we’re going to get it done one way or another.”
The Governor read the last question of the evening from a man in the audience: “why as a terminal cancer patient will the state assist my suicide, but not allow me access to medical cannabis. I cannot afford or access the amounts to treat my cancer as ordered by my doctors.” The man said he is one of a few patients in the program who has unlimited amounts of monthly cannabis, but most dispenseries will only allot one-quarter ounce. “They’re unable to supply me, and I can’t treat my cancer. And I’m not alone,” he added. Murphy asked Commissioner of Health Persichilli to meet and follow-up with the man individually. “Keep this guy in your prayers,” concluded Murphy.
“I’d like to thank Governor Murphy for accepting my invitation to speak in Union,” said Senator Cryan.
“This is how democracy works,” said State Senator Nicholas Scutari. "I welcome him [Gov. Murphy] to work with myself and Senator Cryan on issues that are important to you and to him so we can continue to move this state forward.”