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Governor Murphy Signs Bill to Officially Recognize Central Jersey

by Stephanie Spear
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A new bill in the New Jersey legislature sought to define the boundaries of Central Jersey. After advancing along with three other bills related to the subject back in February, Governor Murphy has now signed the bill — meaning Central Jersey will officially be recognized under New Jersey law. Central Jersey is often the butt of friendly ribbing from its North and South Jersey neighbors, querying whether Central Jersey does exist. The bill proposes defining the region for the purpose of promoting tourism, and now that it has been signed by Governor Murphy, New Jersey’s state tourism map will be re-drawn to include Central Jersey. Read on to learn more about this new NJ law.

About the Bill

The first bill was introduced in early October of 2022 by three Assemblymen who represent Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties. The goal of the bill was to get an official definition of what constitutes Central Jersey written into the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism’s laws. The bill also sought to assign state and federal funding to the region. The bill proposed that the definition of Central Jersey be composed of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties at minimum. A Central Jersey region would be included in all New Jersey tourism activities and publications.

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Per NorthJersey.com, the three other bills are also focused on tourism and would do things like create a tourism attraction trail sign program, require an annual report on New Jersey’s travel and tourism industry and its impact on the economy, as well as establish the “Agritourism Fund” to create grants for businesses.

As of Thursday, February 16th, 2023, the four bills cleared a joint meeting of the Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee, and the Assembly Tourism, Gaming, and the Arts Committee. After going to the full assembly to be voted on, the bill has now been signed by Governor Murphy — which means the state tourism map will now be re-drawn, and the Central Jersey region will be comprised of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties at a minimum, per Patch. The bill will go into effect in 90 days.

Per Patch, The legislation will also direct the Division of Travel and Tourism to include Central Jersey in its marketing campaigns, promoting overnight stays and highlighting the region’s rich history. With more state tourism dollars going into promoting the Central Jersey region, the increase in travel and tourism could bring in more tax revenue to the state and local governments.

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In particular, the bill proposes that federal funds for tourism would be allocated to the regions that had suffered the most during the pandemic. “Any federal economic relief funds used by the division in support of tourism promotion will be used to benefit regions and activities most in need of economic relief after the COVID-19 crisis. The division will use the percentage of tourism decline in those regions or activities as the basis for how and where the relief funds are spent.”

HG looked for other places in the state law where a Central Jersey region could be defined. A 2019 law creating the High-Growth Industry Regional Apprenticeship Development Grant Pilot Program said, “The central region shall include Burlington, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Somerset counties.”

2013 public utilities law defined the Central region as being made up of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Somerset counties. A 1984 law about highways defined the Central region as being made up of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Somerset counties.

During the pandemic, the New Jersey Department of Health would refer to ‘the Central region,’ but HG was unable to find a definition for what exactly that meant. A screengrab from a presentation on May 20th, 2020 shows a map used by the state that included Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Ocean, and Union counties as the Central region.

Historical Debate

Central Jersey officially being defined will no doubt stir up the age-old debate about what counts as Central Jersey, or if it even exists.

central jersey

(Photo credit: @govmurphy)

In 2018, the debate made it to late-night TV, where host and Montclair resident Steven Colbert took on the topic on The Late Show. Governor Murphy had mentioned Central Jersey in his inaugural address. In the interview, Governor Murphy claimed that Central Jersey does exist and that he’s from there originally. Middletown, to be specific. “Isn’t that a little on the nose?” Colbert asked. In December 2019, Governor Murphy tweeted that Central Jersey does exist, and he defined it as including Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Somerset counties for sure. He was on the fence about Ocean and Union counties.

central jersey

(Photo credit: @govmurphy)

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Even NPR has investigated this issue, going back to the state’s colonial roots. The native Lenni Lenape had divided the region into three areas, including, you guessed it, Unami, or ‘people down the river’ in Central Jersey. European settlers in the 1600s divided the state into an East Jersey and a West Jersey. There was so much chaos in the settlement that the landholders gave up on it and yielded governance back to Queen Anne in 1702.

Now that the bill is passed, the definition of Central Jersey will be solidified once and for all.

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