TRENTON, N.J. — The Democratic business executive and Republican lieutenant governor running to replace Republican Gov. Chris Christie have both made big promises to voters ahead of Tuesday’s election, but both of their pitches leave out crucial details on how they’d achieve them.
Democrat Phil Murphy, a one-time Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany, is promising to electrify the state’s sluggish economy. Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno wants to slash the state’s sky-high property taxes.
There are also five third-party and independent candidates on the ballot, and voters will also choose candidates for the Senate and Assembly.
A closer look and questions about Murphy and Guadagno’s central campaign promises:
MURPHY’S BIG IDEA
Murphy says he wants to rebuild the state’s infrastructure and innovation economies. When pressed for details, he has said he would rethink the state’s tax incentive structure and make the state a hub for startups. He has also called for more investment in infrastructure and in education.
Murphy paints a picture of the state’s economy as approaching basketcase proportions. It’s part of an overall campaign strategy to cast Guadagno, who served as Christie’s top deputy for two terms, as a poor steward of the state.
Some data shows New Jersey lagging economically. A Rutgers study analyzing data from 2010-2016 showed the state creating about 45,000 jobs annually. It would have to create about 72,000 jobs a year to keep pace with national growth, the study says.
But Murphy’s picture also misses that the state’s unemployment rate has declined from nearly 10 percent during the recession when Christie and Guadagno came into office to 4.7 percent. New Jersey earlier this year also recovered all the jobs lost during the recession.
Murphy’s plan has also lacked details on how he plans to achieve the kinds of economic growth he’s promising. He’s called for new tax revenue of $1.3 billion, including higher rates on millionaires and the legalization and taxation of marijuana, to fund public pension and school costs.
He hasn’t said specifically how he would restructure the state’s tax incentive structure or whether there is a specific legal or regulatory change he would make to spur growth.
GUADAGNO’S BIG IDEA
Guadagno has promised not to seek re-election if she fails to lower property taxes, which are the highest in the country at more than $8,000 a year on average.
Her plan would cap a resident’s school portion of the property tax levy at 5 percent of income, with a limit of $3,000 in credits. She has said the average savings would be about $800.
To pay for her $1.5 billion plan, she has called for auditing state government.
Guadagno points to audits in Kansas and Louisiana that identified about $2 billion in savings over time as evidence that audits can result in real money. But those states continue to face budget troubles and the audits failed to realize the savings they promised.
In Kansas, lawmakers overcame the governor’s veto to increase taxes because of a continued budget crisis. Lawmakers at the start eagerly greeted the 2016 audit, which found the biggest proposed savings in reducing public teachers’ benefits. But those savings were not realized.
In Louisiana, lawmakers faced one of their worst budget crises in nearly 30 years even after that state’s audit identified $2.7 billion in possible savings over five years. That audit also identified huge possible savings from public worker retirement benefits that did not materialize.
In 2016, the state faced a $900 million budget shortfall with a $2 billion gap on the horizon for 2017. Guadagno’s plan would also hinge on legislators’ adopting her recommendations. The Legislature also faces re-election this year, but is expected to remain in Democrats’ hands, making it unlikely they’d accept all of a Republican governor’s proposals.
Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini
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