In Second GOP Debate, Guadagno and Ciattarelli Trade Shots About Taxes

In Second GOP Debate, Guadagno and Ciattarelli Trade Shots About Taxes
  1. In Second GOP Debate, Guadagno and Ciattarelli Trade Shots About Taxes
    Despite accusations of lying and hypocrisy, candidates do agree on some topics — such as such as relaxing the state's gun control laws and decriminalizing m…
    New Jersey (NJ)
Credit: AP Photo/Julio Cortez, Pool

The two major Republican hopefuls for the gubernatorial nomination tried to distinguish themselves during their second and final debate Thursday night, with much of the discussion focused on disagreements over who would raise taxes.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli from Somerset County sparred on a wide range of other issues, which included gun control, funding for women’s health centers, and transportation infrastructure during the hour-long debate co-sponsored by NJTV News and NJ Spotlight.

Their encounter touched on many of the same topics as their first debate last week, but the candidates were a bit testier. Several times, Ciattarelli called Guadagno “hypocritical” and said she has been telling “blatant lies” about his tax restructuring plan on her flyers. Guadagno was generally kinder, but kept hammering her contention, which he says is a lie, that his plan will raise taxes.

The circuit breaker

For her part, Guadagno continued to push her property-tax circuit breaker plan, which would cap at 5 percent of income the amount of money homeowners would pay for the school portion of their tax bills. She argued she will be able to pay for that program and other critical state needs at least in part through a comprehensive statewide audit.

“As governor, I will make property taxes my number one issue,” said Guadagno, the state’s first lieutenant governor and its secretary of state. “If you make it the number one priority of your campaign, then you can find $1 billion to pay for it.”

Ciattarelli, a 55-year old Hillsborough father of four, kept on his message that Guadagno’s proposal is unworkable.

“It’s an irresponsible plan,” he said. “It’s a promise that can’t be kept.”

In addition to audit savings, Guadagno said she would be able to pay for tax relief through $2.5 billion in savings garnered from changing public-sector health benefits and from revenue growth from a more robust economy, among other measures.

The five-point plan

Meanwhile, she stayed on the attack, painting Ciattarelli’s oft-referenced five-point plan as a $600 million tax increase. Ciattarelli, who is a CPA but does not work as an accountant, said that the higher taxes on high-wealth individuals that are part of his restructuring plan would be more than offset by other tax cuts. He likened it to Reagan-era tax cuts and said everyone to whom he presents the plan has said, “sign me up.”

The two also sparred over their mutual dislike of last year’s 23-cent gas tax increase, at one point arguing over who opposed it first. Guadagno said it is too late to undo that change, as some of the money is already being spent, but that she would make sure the money is allocated more fairly. Ciattarelli said he would repeal that package, meaning he would also return the sales tax to 7 percent and reinstate the estate tax, though after the debate he said he would separately repeal the estate tax as part of his five-point plan.

And he charged that Guadagno’s promise to put New Jersey back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is as good as a tax increase because it will lead to higher electricity bills. Not addressing that assertion, Guadagno said she recognizes that climate change is real and that RGGI is the best way for New Jersey to do its part to try to reverse the process.

An unscientific poll

It’s unclear what impact the debate had; an unscientific poll of members of the audience who watched the debate live in Newark found that everyone had already made up their minds.

Guadagno has been considered the frontrunner, having earned the endorsement of two-thirds of the county Republican parties. She also was leading Ciattarelli, the founder of two medical publishing businesses, now in his sixth year in the lower house, 23-12 in the latest Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month. However, that poll found just over half of registered Republicans still undecided.

The 57-year old former sheriff and prosecutor from Monmouth Beach also leads her opponent in money: Guadagno had raised $1 million more than Ciattarelli as of their May 8 campaign reports, the most recent available.

On the attack

Ciattarelli used the opportunity to largely attack his opponent and continually questioned Guadagno’s lack of specificity on a number of issues. For instance, he said she has not put forth a plan to fix the school-funding formula, which Ciattarelli and other Republicans say gives too much money to districts like Jersey City and Hoboken while underfunding suburbs like Parsippany and Manville.

Guadagno touted the state’s economic recovery during her tenure, noting the unemployment rate is less than half what it was when she first came into office with Gov. Chris Christie: currently 4.1 percent, down from 9.8 percent. As secretary of state, part of her duties has been to promote and court businesses, and Guadagno said that last year, the state welcomed 103,000 new businesses.

Ciattarelli said those new businesses are virtually all “mom and pop shops” and not corporations, which he said do not want to relocate here because of the state’s corporation business tax, which he said he would abolish. He also noted that the state budget remains fragile, as New Jersey has suffered 11 credit downgrades during the past seven years.

“The many downgrades are a direct result of the pension problem,” Guadagno said. “Business is good here. The facts bear me out.”

Criticizing Christie

She was not shy about criticizing the unpopular Christie who, as moderator Michael Aron put it, “plucked (Guadagno) out of obscurity” in 2009 and made her his running mate. To a question on NJ Transit, she criticized a new $29 million project to put 360-degree cameras on buses that Christie unveiled earlier this …

GOP primary debate
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