WAYNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The two candidates looking to replace New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced off for the final time Wednesday night before voters head to the polls.
Republican candidate Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy discussed issues from property taxes and infrastructure to the legalization of marijuana and calls for free college education at the debate at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.
The candidates answered questions gathered from political experts and voters from across the Garden State highlighting top concerns heard through a series of online video discussions hosted through Facebook in September.
CBS2’s Kristine Johnson moderated the debate with a panel also made up of Jessica Dean of KYW-TV, CBS3 in Philadelphia, Levon Putney of WCBS Newsradio 880 and Alfred Doblin, editorial editor of The Record newspaper.
WATCH THE ENTIRE DEBATE:
Johnson began by asking Guadagno what she would say to voters who might be disinclined to vote for her given that she served as Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor. Guadagno said she was running on her own record and not Christie’s.
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not Chris Christie. I’m running on my record. I’m running on my principles. I’m running on my values,” she said.
She also said governors, and not lieutenant governors, are the ones with the final authority – and anytime she had a complaint about Christie, she addressed it privately. But she did say she broke with Christie when he came out in favor of raising the gasoline tax.
Meanwhile, Johnson asked Murphy whether he can sympathize with and understand the plight of the working class, given his personal financial success and his career with Goldman Sachs. Murphy said his upbringing ensured that he could indeed sympathize – saying his father did not finish high school and he worked under the table beginning at the age of 13.
“That experience growing up, barely hanging on in the middle class day in and day out, is what burns most deeply inside me,” Murphy said.
Murphy was also asked about his support for sanctuary cities and for making New Jersey a sanctuary state, even with the Trump administration threatening to withhold federal funds for such cities.
He said the reality is that when residents of a city or state feel safe about engaging law enforcement without worrying about immigration status, everyone feels safer – and he would not back down over threats from Washington.
“We need governors with a steel backbone who are going to stand up to this president and stand up to what’s coming at us,” Murphy said.
In Guadagno’s “circuit breaker” plan, the state would help owners pay property taxes, CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.
“At least I have a plan. What I hear from Phil Murphy’s team is that he is not going to address property taxes at all,” Guadagno said of Murphy.
But Murphy fired back, “I don’t think a fancy title; a gimmick – the circuit buzzer, it sounds like an overstock item at Crazy Eddie’s. That’s not the plan.
Meanwhile, Murphy plans to retool the taxation system – saying the Christie administration had given tax breaks to corporations and had shortchanged public schools by $9 billion.
Guadagno said $9 billion in new tax revenues would come out of everyday taxpayers’ pockets. Murphy said, “The $9 billion is coming from your really wealthy friends, the biggest corporations, and the hedge funds.”
Murphy said the state needs to fund public education, fully fund pensions, and repair infrastructure – and claimed the Christie administration had failed to do so.
CBS2’s Johnson also asked whether the candidates would keep a 2 percent salary cap for police and firefighters that is set to expire, and which has been credited with keeping property taxes from increasing further.
Murphy said it was a “false choice” and said he wanted to “see the facts.”
“You have all the facts available to you to make a decision,” Guadagno retorted. “You just want to dodge the answer.”
The candidates also discussed state of Atlantic City with the loss of casinos – and Guadagno said Murphy would raise property taxes as governor and make the situation in Atlantic City worse.
“You’ve left the middle class behind and now you’ve let the truth behind,” Murphy fired back.
Guadagno later fired back that while Murphy favored fully funding state pensions, he has “no plan whatsoever” to do so. She said she would spin off law enforcement pensions because they are already fully funded as it is, and begin negotiating with the organizations in charge of other state pensions rather than simply guaranteeing new teachers pensions that the state cannot now deliver.
The candidates also discussed an assortment of other issues, including the state of infrastructure and public transportation – particularly NJ TRANSIT – and whether congestion pricing should be imposed on New Jersey residents who work in Manhattan.
“The short answer question is, absolutely. It is hard to get back and forth to New York,” Guadagno said. “I would advocate for a transportation credit.”
But Murphy said of congestion pricing, “The first line of defense, though, is to try to convince New York to not do it. Otherwise, you’ve got to find the money.”
WCBS 880’s Putney went on to ask Murphy about his proposal to legalize marijuana, and whether his motivation was social justice or gaining tax revenue. Murphy said while the state would benefit from taxes, social justice and criminal justice reform was the main motivation.
“If it doesn’t pass the social justice test, you can’t talk about revenue implications, and the fact of the matter is that we have the widest white-nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated in New Jersey,” he said.
He also said he favored legalization over decriminalization – that is, making low-level marijuana possession a ticketable offense – because a black market remains for marijuana with decriminalization.
“The drug industry stays underground, run by the same people, and it’s unregulated,” he said.
But Guadagno called Murphy’s marijuana legalization plan another scheme to raise taxes. She said in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Murphy said he would increase revenues to the state by $1 billion, and $300 million of it from legalizing marijuana – and claimed he had “changed his story” to focus on social justice.
“It falls under Murphy’s law – any tax that can be raised will be raised. And that’s what the people of New Jersey need to know, that with all of these promises, all of these fantasies, all of these entitlements, it’s going to come out of your pocket,” she said.
She also said she opposed legalizing marijuana – following a report from Colorado, where marijuana is legal, showing a 48 percent increase in traffic deaths and attributing it to marijuana use. She also said legalizing marijuana sends a bad message when the state is fighting the opioid crisis.
William Paterson University student Khizar Siddiqi asked the candidates whether they would support free college tuition in New Jersey – with student debt above $1 trillion and some left unable to pursue higher education.
Murphy said he does support free college education, and said New Jersey has “defunded” and “ravaged” higher education. But there is “no one magic bullet” for solving the problems.
He said he supported free community college, and suggested a public bank that hands out money for students, and a program in which outstanding loans would be forgiven for New Jersey students by forgiving their student loan debt if they stay in New Jersey to attend college and for five years afterward.
But Guadagno said a free college education proposal also “falls into the category of, who’s going to pay for it?”
“You know who’s going to pay for it. Look around this room. Look into the camera, and you know who’s going to pay for it,” she said. “Everyone in New Jersey is going to pay for it.”
The candidates also disagreed over U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who is now on trial for corruption charges. Murphy refused to say whether Menendez should resign if convicted, but Guadagno said Menendez would have to go.
She also promised she would not appoint Christie to replace him, saying, “That was an easy one.”
Last month, social media users raised questions for the candidates at a series of online town halls. Johnson asked the candidates one of the lighter questions from the town halls – with New Jersey being the Garden State what are their favorite fruit and vegetable?
Murphy said grapefruit and broccoli. Guadagno said Jersey tomatoes and cranberries.
Members of the audience occasionally cheered and jeered at the candidates, with an audience member at one point telling Murphy, “Answer the question!” and Guadagno repeating it. Johnson asked for decorum at the debate, and warned audience members that they could be asked to leave.