New Jersey is one of two states that has local elections on odd-numbered years. After a mystifying gubernatorial election, the state must be prepared to face future challenges.
Last November, Democratic governor Phil Murphy was re-elected. His defeat of Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli was narrow, with a margin of 51.2% to 48%. Although there haven’t been any New Jersey Democratic governors re-elected since 1977, the media was fairly confident of Murphy’s victory before the election. No one anticipated such a small percentage point margin.
Regardless of the reaction, newly re-elected Governor Murphy has a hard four years ahead. During his bid for re-election, the widespread dissatisfaction with property taxes, the ubiquitous pandemic, and education were key issues. These issues continue to plague New Jersey.
Property taxes are the priority for this state. In 2020, New Jersey property taxes were higher than ever, with residents paying an average of $9,112 in property taxes. Since 2018 – when Murphy started his term – property taxes have increased by $350, leaving residents frustrated with the governor. In past years, Murphy has emphasized schooling and social reform over tax cuts. Many New Jerseyans have probably heard Ciattarelli’s advertisement showing Murphy saying, “If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue…we’re probably not your state.” Under Murphy, New Jersey school systems have been publicly recognized as some of the best in the country, along with New Jersey medical care services. Will this be enough to placate residents? It’s likely not: according to a recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll, 39% of New Jersey residents polled say that taxes are the most important issue facing New Jersey. As 2022 approaches, Governor Murphy will have to find a solution to the property tax problem, or risk making New Jersey unlivable.
Murphy’s pandemic policy has generally been to institute lockdowns, mask mandates, and worker vaccine/testing mandates. It was under Murphy’s watch that New Jersey became a state with one of the highest vaccination rates, but it was also under his watch that more than 7,800 long-term care residents died. Long-term care and nursing homes have been hotspots for COVID-19. Vaccination rates there have been slowly increasing, but there are still numerous LTC homes that shut down because of COVID-19. Besides care homes, mask/vaccine mandates have also been a hot topic in New Jersey. Specifically, school mask mandates – which are set to expire on January 11, 2022 – have prompted criticism, especially since many high school and middle school students have fully received the vaccine. Murphy has stated that if enough students at ages 12-17 are vaccinated, the mandate won’t be renewed in January. His actions will determine New Jersey’s healthcare future.
Education has become a divisive topic in America, including in New Jersey. Ciattarelli wanted to redistribute school funding and didn’t completely agree with critical race theory (CRT). Meanwhile, during his four years of office, Murphy increased school funding and supported diversity in teaching. This past summer, he signed a law mandating that “diversity and inclusion” must be taught in schools, prompting fights over CRT. One such fight inflamed attendees at a Middletown Board of Education meeting a few months ago. Along with conflicts over curriculum, the debate over virtual learning has overtaken New Jersey. Murphy’s mandate that schools must be in-person, instituted during the summer, caused parents and students alike to protest for a virtual option. The group “New Jersey Parents for a Virtual Choice” recently delivered a petition to the governor’s office, but no action has been taken so far. Education is a complicated issue at the best of times, but amidst a pandemic and national discussions about the responsibilities of public schools, New Jersey faces a difficult road ahead.
Phil Murphy, other incumbents, and newcomers alike have pledged to carry on fighting against COVID-19 and other crises facing New Jersey. No matter the irregularity of 2021’s election, New Jersey must keep its eyes on the future.
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