NJ Gov Race: GOP Candidates Ready for Final Primary Debate

Jack Ciattarelli and Kim Guadagno. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

The two major candidates vying for the Republican nomination for governor, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, will face off tonight in their final debate before the June 6 primary.

It was just over a week ago that the two Republicans went head-to-head in their first debate at Stockton University — a spirited exchange in which Ciattarelli and Guadagno traded barbs over their proposed tax plans and their respective ties to Gov. Chris Christie.

The debate will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on NJTV, WNET and C-SPAN, and will be live-blogged by Observer’s Alyana Alfaro and Salvador Rizzo. Here’s a link to NJTV’s live stream. And here’s a recap of the GOP primary battle:

Latest attacks

Ciattarelli and Guadagno have been gradually ratcheting up the attacks over the last few weeks. The day after the two left the stage at Stockton, Guadagno released a statement accusing Ciattarelli of misleading voters by claiming his plan wouldn’t raise income taxes. She also launched a targeted social media ad slamming Ciattarelli for allegedly “flip-flopping” on a number of issues including tax increases, North Jersey casinos, medical marijuana and decriminalizing pot.

For his part, Ciattarelli on Wednesday called on Guadagno to release the findings from a pension “double-dipping” investigation dating to 2008 when she was Monmouth County sheriff. That case was closed in 2012. Ciattarelli claimed Guadagno made “false and conflicting statements” that allowed an employee to earn a pension and salary simultaneously. In his release, Ciattarelli said voters “deserve to know the findings” despite the fact that the probe ended without prosecution.

Tax plans

Guadagno has proposed giving property taxpayers in New Jersey a credit of up to $3,000 a year, a way to cap the portion of their local tax bill that goes toward schools at 5 percent of household income. The tax relief would come quickly for beleaguered homeowners, but the plan has a big price tag, $1.5 billion a year from the $35 billion state budget during lean times, and it relies on a hazy mix of funding sources, including an “audit of Trenton” that Guadagno says would produce $250 million.

Ciattarelli promises a sweeping rewrite of New Jersey’s School Funding Reform Act of 2008, essentially a redistribution of state aid from some historically poor but now economically booming cities such as Hoboken and Jersey City to rural and suburban districts, some of which have been teaching kids in trailer parks or struggling to accommodate a huge enrollment growth of poor and minority students. Homeowners in suburban and rural districts, where property taxes provide the majority of school funding, would get a break on their local tax bill as a result. Republicans have long yearned for these changes, but Ciattarelli would have little hope of getting it through a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

He would also phase out the corporate business tax on a 10-year ramp-down, abolish taxes on inheritances and home sales, close some loopholes and increase marginal tax rates on income above $750,000. And, for good measure, he would renegotiate a tax reciprocity agreement with New York, a change that Ciattarelli says would bring $2 billion in annual revenue.

Polling

A tumultuous few months in Washington have overshadowed New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, which has garnered little interest even among state residents despite being one of only two major races this year along with Virginia’s gubernatorial contest.

The most recent public poll — released by Quinnipiac University on May 3 — found that 51 percent of Republicans had not decided on a candidate. Among those that had, Guadagno earned 23 percent support, while Ciattarelli had 12 percent. But the poll also showed Ciattarelli riding some momentum. In March, Quinnipiac had Guadagno at 28 percent and Ciattarelli at 3 percent.