Gubernatorial debate: Candidates spar on issues from taxes to guns

By Tom Bergeron and Anjalee Khemlani
Newark | Oct 11, 2017 at 8:13 am

New Jersey’s gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, debated the issues Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

The hourlong give-and-take did not produce any soon-to-be-famous one-liners, nor offer insights about the candidates’ views that weren’t already known.

But there was some good back-and-forth. And their answers showed there are clear lines of difference on the issues.

Here’s a look at some of those issues and the candidates’ thoughts on them:

Opening statement (both candidates essentially ignored the first question)

Phil Murphy: This is a great state that has been ravished by the (Gov. Chris) Christie-Guadagno administration over the past eight years, and the middle class has paid the biggest price. Choices have been made to defend the big companies and the wealthiest among us, and the middle class has been left holding the bag.

Schools have been underfunded, infrastructure has been ignored; we’re in an incredibly unfair state. We will fully fund public education in this state; it’s been underfunded by over $9 billion over the past eight years.

Kim Guadagno: I would extend the arbitration cap because it has saved the taxpayers of New Jersey billions of dollars; not millions, but billions. As I look at the people who are listening here tonight, I know that the No. 1 issue facing them today is property tax relief, and I know that we have the highest property taxes in this country.

My platform is to lower the property taxes on those who need it the most, and that’s senior citizens, millennials and working-class families.

How would you solve funding public pensions problem?

KG: I suggest to the listeners out there tonight, or to the people in this room, to look to their right and their left, because that $9 billion is coming from you if Phil Murphy is elected governor. The people of New Jersey are taxed enough.

I know Phil made promises during the primary that he would fully fund the pensions and fully fund health care, but what I would do as governor is talk about it honestly and openly.

Right now, we are hiring 21-year-old kids to teach in our schools and promising them a pension that we know that they will not have. We need to sit down and talk about it thoughtfully, respectfully and realistically. Honor our commitment to the 800,000 people who are already on that pension, but also talk realistically to the 21-year-old who is going into the pension system and will not have a pension.

PM: We are a state that folks no longer trust. Public-sector employees have been left at the altar for 20 years, and no more so than the past eight. Ratings agencies have downgraded our ratings during the Christie-Guadagno administration 11 straight times. We lead the nation in exporting high school seniors and, if that weren’t enough, college seniors.

We have to get back to being a state that people trust and respect again. We can’t keep leaving these folks at the altar, and then keep coming back to them and say, ‘I’ll meet my end of the obligation if you make more concessions.’ That’s not in the category of ‘a deal is a deal,’ so we will fully fund our pension obligations and we’ll get there as fast as we can, because that’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, because we can’t undo the damage that this administration has wrought unless we can find that trust and respect and strength.

What would you say to President Donald Trump?

KG: I would say please fund the infrastructure that you promised in the beginning of the game. We need the Gateway Tunnel.

We have trillions of dollars of reasons for getting along with this (president). I like what he’s doing with regulatory reform; he’s about to expand our economy, not just in New Jersey, but nationwide. I love his idea of funding apprentice programs, because you know one of the problems we have in New Jersey and across the country is middle skills. So, I would tell the president please fund the infrastructure programs so we can do the Gateway Tunnel.

PM: I would implore the president as well, as I have every step of the way, to fund infrastructure. But I’d also tell him, leave our dreamers alone, leave our health care alone, enough with these tax cuts for the very wealthiest among us, protect our environment. This is the most wrong-headed president in the history of our country.

We’re the 10th-largest state in the nation; we are the most diverse state in the nation; we have as much environmental risk as any other state in the nation. All of the steps he has been taking are damaging real lives in this state. I hope his actions matches words in infrastructure. That’s the one area I think I can find common ground with this president.

What would you do about gun laws?

PM: I am strongly of the opinion that I would sign all of the gun safety laws that have been vetoed by the Christie-Guadagno administration. … My four kids are here tonight. They have to go through a lot to learn how to drive a car; folks should have to go through a training program to discharge a gun.

Last week, when those 58 innocent people were killed, I heard from the lieutenant governor that now is not the time (to discuss gun control), and I would just say, it was not the time for them to lose their lives, either.

KG: We need to remember that this is not a political problem … which is the reason I did not make it a political issue last week. But if we’re going to talk about what we could be doing in New Jersey to avoid insane acts like what happened in Nevada, there’s a couple of things you need to know: First, we have the third-most-restrictive gun laws in the country. You cannot buy a BB gun in New Jersey without a firearms permit. We need greater penalties, we need to enforce the laws, we need to have better mental health background checks and, in the case of the Nevada shooting, I would recommend the death penalty.

PM: You just heard from someone who’s got a rating of ‘A’ from the NRA; I’m proud, for the first time in my life, to be given an ‘F’ by the NRA. And I reject completely this business that now is not the time to politicize this. My God, these are innocent people getting killed every single day of our lives. Now is exactly the time.

KG: I’ve been a federal prosecutor, a state prosecutor, a sheriff in Monmouth County; no one knows better how to protect people in this state than me. And I don’t believe the answer is to take guns out of the hands of honest law-abiding citizens.

I believe that Phil Murphy has to answer the following questions: If guns are so bad, why has Goldman Sachs invested in gun manufacturers over the years, and how much has he profited by that investment?

PM: I think if I had your track record, and Gov. Christie’s track record, I’d try to change the subject as well. This is about saving people’s lives.

What would you do with regarding DACA if the law is not updated?

KG: What I would do is follow the law. I’m a former federal prosecutor, I’m a former state prosecutor and I’m a former sheriff, and it’s our obligation to follow the law. What I would not do is make it more dangerous for law enforcement officers and for people who live in the state of New Jersey by declaring New Jersey a sanctuary state.

PM: This is a moral test, black and white. … We will stand up to this president. If need be, we will be a sanctuary not just city, but state. This is America. The America I know is the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty … we open up for all to come here.

How would you grow small business in the state?

PM: The two big economies that we think we can grow are the infrastructure and the innovation economies. And I don’t mean just the big companies; there is a lot of talk about Amazon. I also mean the smaller startup culture.

We were Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley and, under this administration, we’ve lost our edge. We have 15 incubators in New Jersey. New York has 179. That doesn’t happen by accident. Those are policy choices. They’ve ignored it; we’ll embrace it.

KG: We need to pay more attention to small businesses. Let’s do something like they do in Israel. Let’s create a startup economy. I have proposed a chief Innovation officer who would bring together all of the resources, public, private and government, so we can make sure we’ll grow organically rather than stealing from New York (and) Pennsylvania.

Are you in favor of a $15 minimum wage?

PM: I’m for it. It needs to be phased in over a series of years so we don’t give sticker shock to our small businesses and restaurants. I’m absolutely for it.

KG: My view is the $15 minimum wage is going to take away the very jobs they are intended to protect. At least 30,000 or more.