New Jersey’s candidates for governor will have their first televised debate Tuesday at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m., but an event held by New Jersey’s American Association of Retired Persons on Friday helped set the stage for tomorrow’s clash.
The event at the AARP had both Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy speak separately to the organization for 30 minutes. The candidates never met face-to-face, but their talking points managed to respond directly to their opponent.
Murphy’s statements suggested that New Jersey had many long-lasting problems that he intended to fix, while Guadagno focused on making the state more affordable.
“I want to make New Jersey a state that can be trusted again,” said Murphy, who is up by 14 points as a favorite to win the election according to most recent polls. “We can begin by delivering on our promises.”
Among the most important promises, according to Murphy, is the state’s pension problems.
“We’ve left public sector employees and retirees at the altar now for essentially 20 years,” Murphy said about the state’s inability to fund pension liabilities over the past two decades.
Funding the pensions, Murphy said, would “reassert the fact that (New Jersey) is a state you can trust.”
Along with funding pensions, Murphy also suggested methods to fund public education to reduce the property tax burden, improve New Jersey’s infrastructure and supply affordable housing in New Jersey.
Murphy characterized these issues as “leaning on each other,” where solving one would alleviate the others. Some of his proposals recommended pursuing federal dollars while others would be supported by growing the state’s economy.
Guadagno has criticized Murphy’s positions for being too costly for the state.
“You can’t have all of those things without raising taxes on everyone. There’s just not enough money,” Guadagno said, adding that her priority as governor would be to keep the state affordable.
Guadagno added that New Jersey’s pension problem is likely much worse than original estimates. She evaluated that the state owes closer to $135 billion in unpaid pensions, as opposed to the generally accepted $50 billion, but said she believed the problem could be solved.
The lieutenant governor focused on property taxes and said the 2 percent cap on property tax increases in 2011 saved taxpayers over $3 billion. She continued to say that New Jerseyans shouldn’t have to pay more than 5 percent of their household income on property taxes.
Guadagno said property taxes were the number one issue for New Jersey, but her opponent’s solution to the problem isn’t realistic.
“My opponent says that in order to lower property taxes in New Jersey you all should just make more money. Not my words, those are his words,” Guadagno said.
Over the past month, polls have shown Murphy in the lead, but the gap between the two candidates has closed slightly. The most recent number puts Murphy 13 points ahead of Guadagno, but that wasn’t enough to cause concern for him on Friday.
“You introduced me as the democratic candidate, I walked in here thinking I was the only candidate,” Murphy said.