New Jersey Governor Wants to Expand Number of Liquor Licenses

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Philip D. Murphy presented an upbeat vision of New Jersey on Tuesday during his State of the State address: a suddenly cool state where A-list actors come to shoot movies and, with luck, residents will have more places to grab a drink.

Mr. Murphy, who was re-elected in 2021 by a narrow margin, is the chairman of both the National Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association. His wife, Tammy Murphy, has set up a super PAC that could be used to bolster any future political ambitions that Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, might harbor. He has said that he strongly supports President Biden, an ally from the same party who has indicated that he plans to run for re-election.

Still, Tuesday’s annual address had the air of an audition.

Mr. Murphy mentioned his friendship with Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, a Republican and vice chairman of the National Governors Association, and derided “Washington-style dysfunction and chaos.”

“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 said during his first in-person State of the State since 2020, prompting many in the room to stand and clap. Here are some takeaways.

Murphy wants to phase out tightly controlled liquor licenses.

In a nearly hourlong speech, the governor discussed only a few initiatives.

He proposed phasing out liquor license rules over the next several years, a suggestion nearly as contentious as asking residents to pump their own gas. He also said the state would begin offering free and anonymous access to Naloxone, an opioid overdose-reversal drug, and give Shore communities funds to rebuild ocean boardwalks.

Liquor licenses in the state are currently a fixed commodity: In each municipality, the state permits one license for every 3,000 residents.

As a result, the ability to sell alcohol at a restaurant or bar is a coveted — and expensive — right, which can be sold for a large profit.

“The old rules have purposely created market scarcity and driven up costs to the point where a liquor license can draw seven figures,” Mr. Murphy said.

He estimated that expanding the number of licenses, which would most likely require legislative approval, would create 10,000 jobs and generate $1 billion in new tax revenue.

To offset financial losses, current license holders would be eligible for a “targeted tax credit,” the governor said, “to support them as the supply of licenses grows.”

Much of Mr. Murphy’s first term was spent railing against a corporate tax incentive program created by his Republican predecessor. But then he pushed through $14 billion in corporate tax breaks in less than a week, a deal that helped him to broker peace with critics in his own party ahead of his re-election campaign.

On Tuesday, he proposed altering the tax incentive program to give companies financial credit for remote workers.

“We have to recognize that in the new, post-pandemic business environment, not every new job created for a New Jerseyan is going to be housed in a physical office in New Jersey,” he said. “For many New Jerseyans, working remotely is here to stay.”

The governor focused on touting progress in the state.

Mr. Murphy, 65, broke from his past left-leaning rhetoric and instead focused on his efforts to make New Jersey more affordable — and safer.

He ticked off efforts to reduce car thefts and strengthen gun laws, progress that on Monday faced a setback when a federal judge ruled that key elements of a recent gun-related law were unconstitutional.

The law, which Mr. Murphy signed three weeks ago in response to a Supreme Court ruling in June, set up a broad list of places where gun owners are not permitted to carry weapons — a half dozen of which were invalidated by the judge, Renée Marie Bumb.

The attorney general has said the state planned to appeal the ruling.

Much of the address offered a look back at policies from Mr. Murphy’s first term and the hopeful path on which he believes he has placed New Jersey.

He touted the state’s expanded film and television industry, growth evident in Netflix’s decision to build a production hub at a former military installation on the Jersey Shore. The site is expected to be the company’s second-biggest production complex, after its studios in New Mexico.

He also stressed his hope of making New Jersey an East Coast leader in wind energy and the growth in the state’s new cannabis industry.

“It is OK to admit it,” he said. “It’s cool to be from New Jersey again. It’s cool because we are once again leading in all the right things.”

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