A new bill was proposed in the New Jersey Legislature in October looking to define the boundaries of Central Jersey — and now it is advancing along with three other bills related to the subject. Central Jersey is often the butt of friendly ribbing from its North and South Jersey neighbors, querying whether Central Jersey does, in fact, exist. The bill proposes defining the region for the purpose of promoting tourism. Read on to learn more about the proposed bill.
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 is 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 seeks to assign state and federal funding to the region. The bill proposes 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.
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. This means that the bills will now go to the full assembly to be voted on — and Central Jersey is a little bit closer to officially being defined.
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.”
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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.”
A 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.
The proposal will no doubt stir up the age-old debate about what counts as Central Jersey, or if it even exists.
(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.
(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.
It’s possible that if this bill is passed, the definition of Central Jersey will be solidified once and for all.