In NJ State Senate Race, Gas Tax Dominates Early Days of Handlin-O’Scanlon Matchup

With Republican N.J. State Senator Joe Kyrillos retiring, two of his district-mates in the 13th legislative district are competing for his seat.

With Republican N.J. State Senator Joe Kyrillos retiring, two of his district-mates in the 13th legislative district are competing for his seat. File photo

With long-time New Jersey State Senator Joseph Kyrillos retiring at the end of his term, his seat in the state’s Republican-leaning 13th legislative district will be up for grabs and two State Assembly members are getting their digs in early as the competition to succeed him begins. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon questioned his  one-time running mate Amy Handlin’s follow-through Wednesday after she pledged a repeal of the state’s recent gas tax increase.

Handlin made that effort to repeal the tax hike the centerpiece of her pitch to the Monmouth County Republican committee, writing in a letter to its members that she has a plan in place to bring the cost of gas back down. She pointed to Democratic opposition to the bill in the neighboring 11th district, where first-term Assembly members Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling both opposed the bill.

O'Scanlon

O’Scanlon Photo courtesy of the New Jersey Legislature

Handlin

Handlin New Jersey Legislature

“Both of our likely gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, oppose the tax. It’s telling that the first-term Democrats in the 11th District voted against it too; while they’re just as liberal as other Democrats, their leadership obviously feared they’d be vulnerable if they tried to defend a ‘yes’ vote.”

Reached by phone, O’Scanlon said he doesn’t believe Handlin’s effort will have any teeth.

“I would love to hear Assemblyman Handlin’s alternative, which no one has heard,” he said. “For me, my entire career is based on doing the homework and dealing with the issues in an honest way. I don’t think Assemblywoman Handlin has gotten any traction on a repeal effort because it’s a hollow issue. She has no alternative.”

Handlin replied via text that she hopes to change the cost of doing business in the state, which she characterized as the root cause for the dramatic standoff over funding the then-ailing Transportation Trust Fund to pay for roads and bridges with the gas tax.

“I have introduced a three-bill package that would reform TTF and cut the exorbitant cost of building roads in NJ. That will reopen the discussion about why this huge tax was rammed through—in effect, asking people to pay more to support a process we know is wasteful and inefficient.

Handlin is also touting her plurality from the last time New Jersey voters decided on a new governor, as they will when they weigh in on her own race down the ticket in November. Strength against the Democrats’ likely nominee also factored into her arguments to the committee.

“In 2013—the last gubernatorial election—I finished 1,218 votes ahead of my running mate,” she wrote in that letter to the committee. “The likely Democrat candidate for Senate in the 13th district is Marlboro Mayor Jon Hornik. Giving the devil his due, Jon is a popular—and crafty—politician. So it’s important that I’ve been on a winning ticket in Marlboro nine times, and been the top Republican vote-getter for my office (freeholder and assembly) every time.

O’Scanlon said that his fundraising apparatus is healthy, and said he expects more support as the primary gets nearer. State Senator Jennifer Beck of the 11th district endorsed him on Tuesday.

“The level of support among people within Monmouth County and other folks who care about issues in New Jersey has been outstanding. I raised $100,000 at one event a week and a half ago. And we expect to have donations and support pour in.”

Asked whether their working relationship has soured because of the competition, O’Scanlon said no. 

“We respect each other, and that hasn’t changed.”

In NJ State Senate Race, Gas Tax Dominates Early Days of Handlin-O’Scanlon Matchup