(TRENTON) – Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) began his unprecedented fourth term as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly today by detailing issues that matter most to New Jerseyans and discussing his vision for tackling these issues in the upcoming legislative session.
Click on the image below to watch excerpts from his speech or scroll below the video to read the excerpts.
Thank you for the historic honor of returning me for a fourth term as your Speaker of the General Assembly.
Representing the people of the 19th District and this position as Assembly Speaker has enabled me to honor my mom who instilled in my sister Cindy and I an obligation to do good by our neighbors.
A person does not go far without the support of their family and I would not be the Speaker or enjoyed it as much—without my amazing family.
Tish…I love you and I couldn’t be more grateful for you.
Craig and Cathy, Vincent and Robin, Nicholas and Melissa and to my grandchildren Claire and Jameson, I could not be more proud of you and I could not be more thankful for having you to live life with.
To Majority Leader Lou Greenwald who has been my partner through each of these terms. Thank you.And I’m looking forward to another one.
To Minority Leader John DiMaio, thank you for your leadership and work on behalf of the people of New Jersey.
And to all my colleagues, those here today and those who have left this year, it has been a privilege to serve with you.
Today is exciting, we add so many new colleagues as we swear in 27 new members—the largest class since 1982. I truly believe our House now has the best of both worlds—tremendous experience, and fresh energy.
And because it is a diverse body, reflecting the true face of our state.
Each of you—Republican and Democrat—brings a unique background and experience to our deliberations and the General Assembly will benefit. So welcome aboard!
And don’t be shy—jump in, have opinions and make your voice heard. Just please not all at once or when I’m with my grandkids.
I remember when I was sworn in for the first time back in an earlier era—all the way back in 2010, which was also the last year the Jets made the playoffs.
I remember my own sense of awe and reflecting on a quote by President John F. Kennedy who said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” So to all our new members, thank you for trying and never forget that what we do is a big deal, that this institution is sacred, and that 9 million people are counting on us.
And know that every day, driven by the values instilled in us by our parents and communities, we try, and all eighty of us together succeed in making the quality of life better for them.
New Jersey is great. It is the absolute best place to raise a family, get a good public education, and call home. And together, there is no doubt that we have made a difference.
Just think about the state we inherited six years ago from the previous administration.
Our economy was sluggish, and our state’s finances were a mess. Minimum wage was just eight dollars and forty-four cents per hour.
Many New Jerseyans worked without paid sick leave, putting their health and that of the community’s at risk.
We lacked strong paid family leave laws, which meant choosing between your job and caring for a loved one, or bonding with your new child.
New Jersey had budget problems that many called insurmountable, including a pension system ranked as the worst in the country.
We were a state that shied away from big issues, like gun safety, expanding democracy, and fighting food insecurity.
Just six years later, think about just some of what we’ve achieved together.
We’ve rebuilt our state’s finances.
Our economy is thriving, our business rankings are growing all while minimum wage has reached $15 per hour, meaning more money in the pockets of working families, and allowing more New Jerseyans the ability to participate in our economy.
We have made the first full pension payments in decades, not once but three years in a row. We have increased School Aid to its highest level in state history.
We have enacted the strongest equal pay law in the country. We’ve stood up for women’s rights. We stood up for workers and families, ensuring sick leave and expanding family leave.
We stood up for gun safety, expanded the right to vote, and launched an all-out assault on food insecurity. And the nation is noticing.
Twice in the last year and a half, I have been invited to White House conferences to talk about food insecurity and gun safety.
Ladies and gentlemen, we should be proud.
Those conferences have taught me that what other States aspire to achieve, we have already accomplished, and now we are looking to the next horizon.
And we are different in another way. We work in a bipartisan way here in Trenton—something that doesn’t happen in Washington or other states.
Democratic and Republican bills are routinely passed with support from both sides and the food insecurity fight has been a bipartisan effort.
But the best example has been in an area that has caused rancorous debates in so many states—whether votes are cast legally. Here in New Jersey my friend, the Minority Leader John DiMaio and I came together and passed a package of bills designed to make Election Night vote reporting more open and transparent—to ensure New Jerseyans had trust in the system.
Even though we’ve made so much progress constituents told us two (2) years ago that they are concerned about affordability. They feel like they pay too much and receive too little.
And with rising college and daycare costs, healthcare and housing costs, not to mention grocery bills, who can blame them? A family today faces far greater challenges than Tish and I did just a couple decades ago. And retirees today face a more uncertain future than our parents and grandparents did.
We responded by sitting down at the proverbial kitchen table and listened. And then we went to work, with Governor Murphy and Senate President Scutari, two outstanding leaders and partners, and we accomplished a great deal.
- We doubled the child tax credit.
- We increased and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- And we enacted 20 common sense tax cuts.
- But we didn’t stop there.
- We expanded prescription drug assistance to thousands of more seniors while capping the costs of life-saving drugs like insulin and inhalers.
- We delivered the largest property tax relief in state history and established the ANCHOR program which cut property taxes by an average of 16%–back to 2011 levels, and benefited 1.6 million New Jerseyans.
We also heard from seniors and retirees, who told me New Jersey is a great place to grow up, a great place to raise a family, but not a great place to retire. It’s why we lose so many older residents to other states, hoping to stretch their retirement savings.
That is not a reality we can just accept.
That is why we fought for and passed StayNJ, a program that will cut property taxes in half for the overwhelming majority of New Jersey seniors.
More than any property tax relief the Legislature has ever passed, StayNJ is a game changer.
It has the opportunity to be truly transformative. Because it will keep seniors where they should be—in towns they helped build near the people they love; but also because it will change the way people think about retiring in New Jersey.
Some friends of ours whose son went to school with my son Nicholas are a perfect example.
The Aikens were planning to leave New Jersey when they retired, now they are planning to stay. And here’s a tip to my colleagues—they are planning to continue to vote for me and tell others to do the same.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate how fortunate I am to be the Speaker and be given the chance to make a difference—right here at home.
I look around at the dysfunction in Washington DC. The political divisions that tear at our society. A Supreme Court more politicized than ever…its very legitimacy as a neutral arbiter doubted by more and more of the public.
And in the midst of it all, I come back to this chamber, to our members and to our approach. To our shared commitment to work together—Democrats and Republicans—to do what is right. To find common ground around common-sense New Jersey values.
Support great schools. Keep people safe. Make New Jersey affordable.
And to put the pieces in place for everyone to live their own New Jersey dream…
And to keep living it—whether they are a student returning from college or a senior welcoming grandchildren.
Let’s keep them all STAYING in NJ.
That’s what I want to do and I need your help—
Now, we are all individuals, and we aren’t always going to agree on priorities or methods. But this will always be a Chamber where decorum is prioritized, where civility still reigns and where people of different philosophies come together to try to do right.
Let’s make sure we engage one another with integrity and grace, fighting for our principles while leaving room for compromise. And one more tip. Focus on getting things done, not on getting headlines—its worked pretty well for me.
Today is a day of joy, pride, and enthusiastic optimism, for what we will accomplish. So let’s resolve to do more. We have 27 new members eager to make a difference.
Let’s find more ways for New Jersey to lead the nation. And build on what we have done.
We don’t have a food problem, we have a getting the food to people challenge, so let’s commit to eliminating hunger altogether.
Let’s make sure that all New Jerseyans have a decent place to live, and end homelessness.
Let’s make our schools even better, and make sure than all New Jerseyans can get the medical case they need.
And let’s make sure that the people who make the state work each and every day like grocery store workers, bus drivers and custodians get the fair and respectful treatment they deserve.
New Jersey is a great state, let’s continue to show the nation how it’s done and ask them to follow along.
Thank you, God Bless you and God Bless the Great State of New Jersey.