Madam Chief Justice, my distinguished predecessors, members of the Legislature, my family, friends, and fellow citizens: thank you for giving me the privilege of serving as the governor—as I said just last week—of the greatest state in the greatest nation on earth.
I have made it a hallmark of my administration to part from tradition. So today we do so once more. We celebrate this solemn occasion here in our state's spectacular new Performing Arts Center, here in Newark, a city undergoing a true renaissance; here, in a hail which trumpets our belief that the arts are an integral part of any civilized society and every proud state; here, on the edge of a new century, a new millennium—a new tomorrow.
I begin my second term filled with hope for New Jersey. New Jersey: where more of us are working; where our streets are the safest they've been in decades; where our schools improve every day; where beaches sparkle and the arts thrive; where our ports make us a gateway to the world; where people can boast of good careers and bright futures; and where families are proud to call the Garden State home.
How do we continue this momentum? How can we make sure the New Jersey our children inherit lives up to its potential? What legacy can we leave them as we leave this century behind?
These past four years form a tapestry in my mind: a tapestry of faces, families, churches, schools, forests, beaches, wildlife, and highways, always highways. So often, what was natural land two or three years ago is now a shopping center or a housing development or an office building. Spending so much time in a car seeing New Jersey roll by has given me a sense of urgency about our state's future. I have a vision for that future—a vision for rebuilding our cities, preserving our open space, and enriching our sense of personal responsibility.
As I said last week in my State of the State address, I want to make our state more affordable, our schools stronger; and our communities safer. Ultimately, my mission is to make New Jersey more livable. So I will concentrate my second term on improving the quality of life for all New Jerseyans. I want to help forge a state with thriving communities, with greater opportunities to enjoy New Jersey, with more open space preserved for all generations for all time.
I want to start by drawing on the vast potential of our cities. We all recognize the remarkable effect that the New Jersey Performing Arts Center is having here in Newark. People are feeling a new sense of hope. The same optimism is building around Camden's entertainment center, New Brunswick's theater district, and Atlantic City's new convention center. I want New Jersey to use anchor projects like these to create ripples of redevelopment. Let's bring new homes, new businesses, and a renewed confidence to the people of our cities.
We've already begun this transformation. We've made it easier to reclaim abandoned factories and demolish dangerous buildings. We've created thousands of new homes. Along the way, the state has invested more that' $600 million in the cities we targeted. And, of course, our work to improve schools and fight crime is already making a difference. But our cities need to overcome another problem before they can flourish.
Right now, too many buildings we see boarded up stay that way for an eternity. Their owners fall hopelessly behind in paying their taxes. But the city finds it too difficult to take action. And so they sit there, ugly unprofitable for anyone except a drug dealer. It's hard to rebuild a neighborhood with these eyesores standing in the way. So today I propose we enact legislation that enables cities to acquire and redevelop these properties. And I promise to dedicate $400 million in state financing and redevelopment funds for projects in these neighborhoods. Urban mayors, I give you my word: together, we can pull down those boards; together, we can raise up these neighborhoods.
Taking care of bricks and mortar isn't enough. Our cities also need another kind of renewal: a renewal of faith, hope, and confidence. That’s why I've launched a Faith-Based Community Development Initiative. We will expand our support of religious organizations that are already building shopping centers, offering job training, and providing child care in their communities. I am proud to announce a state commitment of $5 million for this initiative. We have already found two business partners, and we'll look for more.
That seed money will grow. Three years ago we started a Community Development Bank for our cities with $2 million. Now that bank has some $30 million in public and private funds available. Religious leaders have had a tremendous impact on their communities. Let's help them and their congregations spark new energy in their neighborhoods.
There's another thing we can do for our cities. Urban mayors want help in giving their residents education and job training to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Our community colleges lead the way in providing this opportunity. Everyone should be able to afford a higher education so they can fulfill their dreams. So today I am making a long-term commitment to these colleges by fully funding the $12 million increase that these institutions have asked for this year. And I am pleased to report that the community colleges have responded by announcing a tuition freeze for the coming year. Our students deserve it and the strength of our cities demands it.
Strong cities improve the quality of life not only for their residents but for all of us. They give us a sense of place and a sense of pride. Just as important, they can help stem the spread of suburban sprawl.
In writing about New Jersey, National Geographic claimed, and I quote: once-isolated villages have expanded so rapidly that outsiders cannot tell where one ends and another begins." That article was written in 1933, when our population was half the size it is today.
Every part of New Jersey suffers when we plan haphazardly. Sprawl eats up our open space. It creates traffic jams that boggle the mind and pollute the air. Sprawl can make one feel downright claustrophobic about our future.
Fortunately, New Jersey already has a strategy to deal with these problems. It's called the State Plan---a blueprint for redeveloping cities, relieving congestion, and containing sprawl. These are goals we all want for New Jersey. So let's enable municipalities to reach these goals. Let's help them remain places in which we want to live and can afford to live. Let's give towns a better way to plan their futures. For example, the courts have said that towns trying to manage growth don't have the statutory power to control their own pace of development. I say our towns need that power and so I call upon the Legislature to act now to change the laws and give them that control.
Also, too many towns bend over backwards to pursue development hoping it will help balance their budgets. In the process, they strain not only their backs but also the services needed to support this development. The result is a double whammy: less open space and higher property taxes. Today, I am asking the property tax commission I appointed to recommend how communities can avoid a chase they can't win. For instance, let's give towns a guidebook to determine the true costs and benefits of a developer's proposal. In this way, we can empower town leaders and citizens to decide on a project based on hard facts and real estimates.
But state government can do more to make a difference. And we will. I have already directed my Cabinet to use the State Plan as a fundamental guide in making permit and funding decisions. Today I am further directing them to give priority to applications that meet the Plan's goal of developing where infrastructure is already in place. And we'll create one of the greatest incentives state government can offer a town: a pledge to get out of your way. Give us a true commitment to build where it makes sense, in concert with the State Plan, and we'll give you up-front approval on all your development projects. That means good projects can get the green light in weeks instead of years. And quicker approvals mean lower costs.
I've talked a lot about open space today because I know it's important all of us. Time and again, we New Jerseyans have voted to protect open space and farmland. We've saved hundreds of thousands of acres since 1961. In just the past four years, we have preserved 115,000 acres—including record amount of farmland. That's a great down-payment on our quality of life, and we can be proud of what we have achieved. But we can do better. Today, I am setting a goal that will nearly triple our pace and preserve another 300,000 acres during the next four years. Our ultimate goal will be to preserve 1 million acres in the coming decade.
During my first term, I challenged my Council on New Jersey Outdoors to recommend a stable source of funding to accomplish this goal. Last week I was briefed on their ideas. The Senate President has outlined a funding proposal of his own. Today I pledge to work with him and the Legislature to establish a permanent, stable source of funding this year. Let's win the space race—the open space race.
I want to address another quality of life problem that frustrates so many of us: traffic and the amount of time it takes to get to work and back each day. I will be announcing within the next 60 days a strategic transportation plan for the 21st century. This plan will address the need to increase bus and train lines, restore crumbling bridges, improve safety on our local roads, and relieve congestion.
Together, we can create a New Jersey we will be proud to pass on to our children and grandchildren. A New Jersey in which all our communities prosper. In which fertile farms, sparkling waters, and breathtaking mountain views remain lasting treasures. We can achieve the goal I set last week. Together, we can make New Jersey truly the best place to live in America. Ladies and gentlemen, this a great moment for me, a solemn occasion for New Jersey, and a proud day for Newark. I am reminded of a more auspicious occasion in Newark's history. On a snowy February day, our nation's greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, passed through Newark on his way to Washington. Allow me to echo his words on that occasion as I accept the honor of serving you as Governor for the next four years.
He said then, and I say now: "With my own ability alone I cannot hope to succeed; I hope to be sustained in Divine Providence in the work I have been called to perform for this great, free, happy, and intelligent people."
During the past four years, I have witnessed the best of New Jersey. I've met everyday heroes in every part of our state. I've learned what a state leader had in mind recently when he said, "there is a thoughtful generosity embedded in the people of New Jersey."
Fellow New Jerseyans, eight million strong: you are a great, free, happy, and intelligent people. You are a thoughtful and generous people. You cherish our liberty. You enrich our prosperity. And I am deeply proud to serve you as Governor. Thank you very much.
Speech courtesy of the Center on the American Governor.