By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said at Rider University Thursday that “families in New Jersey cannot afford” her Democratic rival Phil Murphy, in saying she was the only one with a plan to lower property taxes as the next governor.
As she has before in her underdog campaign, Guadagno elevated property taxes, the tops in the nation, as the defining issue of the race. She has proposed limiting the amount people pay to 5 percent of their household income, and said her plan, on average, would save people $800 a year.
“We can no longer afford to live here,” she said in trying to make “New Jersey affordable again.”
“The number one problem facing each one of us today, even if we’re renters, is property taxes,” she said.
Eschewing standing at a lectern, she walked around the room, microphone in hand, for about 30 minutes speaking to a crowd of students and others. Mixing personal biography with campaign talk, she said she had looked around the country for a plan that would attract approval from a Democratic-controlled legislature.
To pay for it, she reiterated her call to audit state government, in pointing to how former Gov. Tom Kean did it 30 years ago and saved $100 million.
“We don’t know where your money’s going. And don’t you think it’s time we go and do an audit?” she said.
Though she did not spend much time talking about Murphy, she has criticized his proposals to expand government entitlements and increase taxes.
“So Phil Murphy’s plan for addressing the number one problem in New Jersey is as follows: all of you should make more money,” she said. “He does not have a plan for fixing the number one problem in New Jersey. He does not have a plan for trying to lower the highest property taxes in the nation.”
The Murphy campaign hit back, and sought to tie her with Gov. Chris Christie, who enjoys low job approval ratings.
“Kim Guadagno has absolutely zero credibility on any issue that affects middle-class and working families in New Jersey, especially when it comes to property taxes,” said Murphy spokesman Derek Roseman. “For the past seven and a half years, she stood right by Chris Christie’s side gutting property tax relief, underfunding our public schools by nine billion dollars. These are the damages that Phil Murphy is going to help reverse and deliver real relief to middle-class families.”
Murphy has faulted the Christie administration for shortchanging public schools, and said fully funding them would lower property taxes. But Guadagno posed a rhetorical question to her audience.
“Think about it. Where’s the nine billion dollars coming from?” she asked “You. Where else would it come from?”
Guadagno’s appearance at Rider came two days after she and Murphy had their first debate. The two are scheduled to face off for the final time Wednesday, in a contest Murphy is leading by 14 points, according to a Monmouth University poll out last week.
One observer of the state’s political scene who watched Guadagno Thursday said she is right in saying property taxes is the top issue.
“But people don’t cast their ballot in a vacuum,” said Ben Dworkin, director of Rider’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, the host of Guadagno’s speech.
“There’s a larger context here,” he said. “One of it is that we’ve had eight years of Republican rule in Trenton, and people are looking for change. One is that Chris Christie, after eight years, is really unpopular, and people are looking for a change.”
He said Murphy enjoys an almost 3-1 edge in cash on hand, a critical advantage in New Jersey. Running for statewide office is pricey, given New Jersey is split between two of the most expensive media markets, New York and Philadelphia, for candidates to buy TV ad time.
Guadagno had her share of supporters in the crowd, like Alexis Bailey, a Rider sophomore, who belongs to the campus Republican club.
“Right now, I think that we’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out,” she said when asked about what she thought of Guadagno’s chances. “But I have faith that the people of New Jersey will make the right choice and vote for the person that’s going to help all of us with property taxes.”
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer