(TRENTON) – The New Jersey General Assembly on Tuesday swore in Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) as the Majority Leader for the 216th Legislature.
First elected to the Assembly in 1996, Greenwald said he was inspired to public service by watching his late mother, Maria Barnaby Greenwald, the legendary first woman mayor of Cherry Hill, bring people together to solve problems and advocate for senior citizens and middle-class families.
From her, Greenwald said he learned the value of standing up for beliefs and bringing people together to solve problems at an early age.
Throughout his service in the Assembly, Greenwald has been the architect of auto insurance reform, reformed the hospital charity care system, revised New Jersey’s school funding formula, led a fight to pass property tax relief credits for middle-class families, and championed common sense ideas to reduce gun violence.
Greenwald , who became Majority Leader in 2012 after serving as Assembly Budget Committee chairman from 2002 to 2011, pledged to continue to emulate these values in the 216th Legislature.
Below is the text of Majority Leader Greenwald’s remarks at the Assembly Reorganization ceremony, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you. I am truly honored to stand before you today, and I am deeply thankful for the privilege of being selected as the Assembly Majority Leader for the 216th Legislature.
“I want to thank my family: my wife, Cindi, and our three beautiful children. Your love and support sustains me each and every day. And I know in my heart: no matter what we tackle in Trenton, no matter what we achieve, the most important titles I will ever hold are father and husband.
“I want to thank my colleagues as well: both the seasoned veterans of the State House and the new faces that join our ranks today. Thank you for your commitment and your service. I look forward to working with you in the days and months ahead.
“I want to thank Sheila Oliver for her years of service as Speaker of the Assembly. During the past four years, New Jersey faced many difficult challenges. Sheila Oliver met each and every one of these challenges with the grace, the compassion, and the determination that is becoming of a great leader. Thank you, Sheila.
“I also want to thank Vinnie Prieto, who will take the oath of Speaker today. We have shared years of friendship and working together to solve problems. I look forward to continuing to work with you to lead the Assembly in the best direction for New Jersey.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Today, we face deeply difficult challenges in government–both in our state and in our nation:
“We hear cynical arguments that declare government itself is the problem–unable to accomplish good on behalf of its citizens or solve the problems that face their families;
“We see elected leaders shrink from the pressing issues of our times–embracing bumper sticker solutions and focusing on the next election instead of attacking these challenges head-on;
“We feel outrage and disappointment in our hearts–as some individuals forget that public service is a privilege; not a playground for political intimidation or personal agendas.
“Under these troubling circumstances, it would be easy to turn our heads away from the challenges we face and conclude they cannot be solved. It would be simple for us to give in to cynicism and shrink from the tasks at hand.
“But that is not who we are. We are from New Jersey. And when we face tough times, we grit our teeth, roll up our sleeves and get to work.
“As a state, we have faced many obstacles that people said could not be solved. We have fought for many issues that people said were ahead of their time.
“Let us look back at how far we have come in just the last two years.
“Think of the shift worker struggling to make ends meet and feed his family. In a state with a shrinking middle-class, some said that promoting the ability to earn a living wage would hurt our economy. Some said that our economic policies should not keep pace with the high and growing costs of living in our state.
“But we recognized that a rising tide lifts all boats. We increased the minimum wage–making it easier for a quarter of a million New Jerseyans to earn a living. And in the process, we strengthened our economy for middle-class and working families.
“Consider Giancarlo Tello–a New Jersey student for 17 years who happens to be undocumented. He was brought to this country with the promise of a better life. Yet through no fault of his own, he faced severe barriers to his dream of higher education and economic opportunity. Even though New Jersey was his home in every sense of the word, he was forced to drop out of Rutgers University because of these barriers.
“We took action and passed the New Jersey DREAM Act. Today, the American Dream is available to all students who have made New Jersey their home. While we must do more to ensure affordability for these DREAMers and for all our students, one thing is certain: the New Jersey DREAM Act will strengthen our economy, our culture, and our future.
“Consider the same-sex couple, like Jimmy and Richie Madden from my district. Bound together by love and commitment, they were forced to settle for second-class citizenship. But we stood up to fight for the values of fairness and equal justice that our Constitution represents. We passed the first marriage equality bill in the history of this state.
“And because of this passionate fight–both in the Legislature and in the courts–marriage equality is the law of the land today. What seemed impossible nearly a decade ago is now enshrined in law. Never again will Jimmy and Richie–or thousands of families like theirs–live in fear of being turned away from their spouse’s hospital bed because of their sexual orientation.
“Consider a cancer patient in Vineland or Cherry Hill. Over a decade ago, this patient would have been told to drive into Philadelphia for treatment. Some said there would never be a better option than driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge for medical care. But over a decade ago, we fought to make world-class cancer research facilities accessible to all our residents.
“Because we fought for this investment, the nation’s top cancer research center–MD Andersen–came to New Jersey in partnership with Cooper Hospital. Today, countless families facing the desperate realities of cancer now have a state-of-the-art facility right in their own backyard. And today, these families have hope: hope for a better life, and hope for a cure.
“There were those who said restructuring New Jersey’s institutions of higher education to promote our economic future would be too difficult. But we came together in bipartisan fashion to pass needed reforms. Today, we have strengthened our research universities, increased our dedication to the growing field of health sciences, and ensured we remain a leader in higher education.
“When tragedy struck in Tucson, Aurora, and Sandy Hook, some said we could not enact new laws to reduce gun violence. Some said the NRA and its gun lobby allies were too strong to achieve real reform to protect our families.
“But where Congress failed, New Jersey took action. From cracking down on illegal firearms trafficking, to strengthening mental health background checks, to focusing on school security–we passed common sense laws to prevent gun violence. And while we can still do more, we have shown the nation the blueprint for bipartisan change to save lives and promote safer communities.
“We achieved all this when it seemed unlikely. But we still have much more work to do.
“Many of you have heard me talk about my mother, Maria Barnaby Greenwald. She was an incredible woman–whose love for her community was exceeded only by her determination to better the lives of her constituents.
“In 1977, she became the first woman mayor of Cherry Hill. In her inaugural speech, she spoke of the crushing burden of property taxes. She lamented the terrible reality that property taxes were driving middle-class families out of state and forcing senior citizens to choose between paying their bills and seeing their grandchildren grow up.
“Thirty-seven years later, this burden remains just as threatening.
“Let me be clear: our single most important mission is to reduce the property tax burden that is smothering our middle class and destroying our state.
“Many of the problems our state faces have roots in our property tax burden. Whether it is a lagging unemployment rate, a shrinking middle-class, persistent budget shortfalls, or residents leaving our state in droves: these crises share the common culprit of property taxes.
“Property taxes are not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. Property taxes are a New Jersey problem–one we must dedicate ourselves to solving.
“I have spoken with Speaker Prieto and some of my Republican colleagues. We agree: it’s time to stop talking about property taxes and start doing something about it. It’s time to fix the property tax burden that is crippling our state.
“That is why we will form a bipartisan task force to address property taxes. This task force will evaluate solutions and fiscal policies used by other states. We will draw from the best practices of 49 other states to propose solutions that will work best for New Jersey.
“My hope is that we will present these solutions to the voters–allowing them to choose among a menu of options to reduce property taxes.
“Some will say the challenge of property taxes is too big to be solved.
“But from the senior citizen living on a fixed income, to the college graduate looking to start a career, to the middle-class parents that hope their children will have the same opportunities they had: New Jersey’s families deserve nothing less.
“There is still much work to be done. Let us join together. Let us do the unthinkable and prove the cynics wrong. Let us attack New Jersey’s property tax crisis once and for all.
“Thank you. God Bless you, and may God continue to bless the great State of New Jersey.”