NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey Republican candidates competing to succeed Gov. Chris Christie attacked each other over how best to lower the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes during their second and final debate in Newark on Thursday.
Front-runner Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli traded barbs during the NJTV debate in a race that polls show has tightened ahead of the June 6 primary. Christie is term limited.
New Jersey has the highest property tax rates in the country, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tax Foundation, and Thursday’s debate revolved heavily around the candidates’ competing visions for how to lower levies, which average about $8,500.
Guadagno has proposed capping property tax at 5 percent of income. Ciattarelli has called for an overhaul of the state’s education funding formula, which he argued would lower property taxes because they are driven in large part by local school districts.
Ciattarelli called Guadagno’s property tax plan “disingenuous, oblivious.” Guadagno rhetorically asked Ciattarelli why he has adopted a “tax-your-way-out-of-it mentality.”
Ciattarelli said Guadagno’s plan ignores the mandated school funding formula, a major driver of property taxes. Guadagno responded that her proposal is a first step and would provide immediate relief to tax-burned residents.
She attacked Ciattarelli over his call for raising taxes on millionaires, which estimates have shown could bring in $600 million in state revenues. Ciattarelli responded that his plan, which also includes phasing out the business tax over a decade, would lower tax burdens overall.
Guadagno, a former Monmouth County sheriff and one-time federal prosecutor, has been leading in the polls, though many voters are undecided.
The lieutenant governor also has raised more cash than Ciattarelli, but he has outspent her so far. State election figures show Guadagno has $1.5 million in cash on hand compared to Ciattarelli’s roughly $500,000.
The first debate last week also opened with pointed attacks toward each other over property taxes and state pensions. Some of the sharpest attacks came when the candidates distanced themselves from Christie.
Guadagno has served alongside Christie since winning election as the state’s first lieutenant governor in 2009. After mostly standing behind the governor during their two administrations, lately she has begun to disagree with him publicly. One of their most prominent disagreements is over the governor’s $300 million planned renovation of the dilapidated statehouse. Guadagno has promised to scrap the project.
Ciattarelli has served in the Democrat-led Legislature since 2012 and also is the owner and publisher of a medical publishing firm.
The four leading Democrats competed in their second debate last week. Democrats Jim Johnson, Ray Lesniak, Phil Murphy and John Wisniewski are competing for their party’s nomination.