Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno was back on the campaign trail yesterday, standing alongside several GOP lawmakers and local elected officials in Bergen County as she forcefully delivered a message of tax relief that has become a hallmark of her campaign.
“The number one problem for us as political candidates running for office has to be property taxes, it has to be,” Guadagno said, as she stood behind a sign that read “New Jersey Needs Property Tax Relief Now.”
The intense focus on tax relief makes sense given the struggles many New Jersey families are having with the state’s ever-rising property-tax bills, and it also comes as voters have been telling pollsters for the past several months that the top issue in this year’s gubernatorial election is taxes.
Yet the same polling data has also revealed that Guadagno has been unable to make any serious headway against Democratic opponent Phil Murphy in recent months, even as she’s labeled him the “tax man,” a moniker rooted in part in a Murphy plan to hike taxes on New Jersey’s millionaires and hedge-fund managers to help address the state’s longstanding fiscal problems.
Too early to tell?
Asked about her predicament yesterday, Guadagno disagreed with the notion that the poll results are an indication that voters aren’t buying her message, and instead favored a reporter’s suggestion that it may simply be too early in the campaign season to draw any conclusions.
“I believe people aren’t paying attention,” Guadagno said. “Not yet, (but) I think they will.”
But Murphy’s camp offered up a different explanation later in the day, focusing on Guadagno’s strong ties to Gov. Chris Christie, whose deep unpopularity with voters could be drowning out any other issue at this point. Guadagno has served as lieutenant governor alongside Christie throughout his two terms in office.
“It is clear to New Jersey voters: the Christie-Guadagno administration has been a catastrophic failure for our state, and Kim Guadagno only offers more of the same,” said Daniel Bryan, a spokesman for the Murphy campaign.
A centerpiece proposal of Guadagno’s campaign so far has been her call for a “circuit breaker” tax-relief program that would help offset local property tax bills that now average $8,549 statewide. A decade ago, the statewide average for property tax bills was $7,281, and they averaged $7,576 when Christie and Guadagno took office in early 2010.
Capping school taxes
To help offset increases, Guadagno’s proposed tax-relief program would use state dollars to ensure the school-tax portion of a local property tax-bill would be capped at no more than 5 percent of a homeowner’s annual income. Households earning the median income of $72,000 would see nearly $900 in relief, while no one could receive more than $3,000 to ensure the relief only goes to those who need it most, according to Guadagno’s plan.
The circuit-breaker proposal should be music to the ears of New Jersey voters, since the latest survey conducted by Quinnipiac University revealed that 30 percent of those polled said taxes are the most important issue to consider when deciding who to vote for in this year’s gubernatorial election. The economy and education, two issues Murphy has been talking about frequently, followed at 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
But the results of the latest Quinnipiac poll also suggested that Guadagno’s ties to the unpopular Christie — something pundits have identified as a key concern since she first joined the contest to replace the term-limited governor earlier this year — may also be a significant factor as voters begin to make up their minds.
The Christie connection
While 30 percent of those polled by Quinnipiac perceived Murphy’s background as a retired Goldman Sachs executive as a negative, nearly 50 percent cited Guadagno’s role in the Christie administration as a negative.
“Working for Goldman Sachs hurts Murphy a little. Serving as lieutenant governor to Gov. Chris Christie hurts Guadagno a lot more,” said Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
In all, Murphy led Guadagno in a head-to-head matchup by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin, which is about the same gap that was measured by Quinnipiac in May. And a deeper look at the more recent survey results also shows that while 37 percent of voters viewed Murphy favorably compared to 18 percent who viewed him unfavorably, only 25 percent viewed Guadagno favorably compared to 33 percent who viewed her unfavorably. The earlier Quinnipiac polls going back to May show a similar issue for Guadagno, even as the number of voters who say they don’t know enough about her has gone down from nearly 60 percent in May, to 50 percent in June, to 40 percent this month.
Time for a turnaround?
Still, that means that 40 percent of voters have yet to form an opinion of Guadagno, and 43 percent have yet to do so for Murphy, suggesting there’s still time for a turnaround.
“When (voters) start to realize that Phil Murphy is actually running on a platform of raising taxes, not just a penny or two, but $1 billion … I think they’ll start paying attention,” Guadagno said yesterday.
But the response from Murphy’s campaign indicated voters may not like everything they hear about Guadagno as they begin to pay more attention in the run-up to November 7. Bryan, the Murphy campaign spokesman, referred specifically to figures that indicate spending on state property-tax relief programs has declined during the tenure of the Christie administration even as the average property-tax bills have risen.
“Phil Murphy is connecting with voters because he offers a real plan to build a stronger, fairer economy that works for all New Jersey families, not gimmicks and divisive politics,” Bryan said. “Kim Guadagno has no credibility on property taxes after standing by Christie’s side while property taxes rose, property-tax relief was gutted, and schools were underfunded by over $9 billion.”