Guadagno, Murphy spar over toll hike claims

The playbook at Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno’s news conference called for accusing her opponent of political poison. She claimed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy promised to raise New Jersey motor vehicle fees, and put new toll booths on Interstate Highways like 287 and 78.

“It’s the working families, the people who go into the Motor Vehicle Commission and have to pay additional rates. The person who drives through the tolls on these new highways that will have to pay additional money,” said Guadagno.

Except, Murphy never actually promised that.

“I haven’t talked about raising tolls or fares once,” he said.

Regardless, Republicans kept churning out sound bites.

“You know, tolls on 287, 78, that’s not going to hit him or the millionaires. That’s going to hit the working class, the working folks in Somerset County, Hunterdon County, Warren County,” said Sen. Kip Bateman.

The genesis for these strident accusations? Crossroads — a comprehensive research paper commissioned by The Fund for New Jersey and released by Former Gov. Jim Florio. It studied NJ Transit and the state’s failing transportation infrastructure. Among many recommendations, it lists possible revenue sources to help generate money for transit funding, including raising motor vehicle license and registration fees, charging tolls on interstate highways and leasing toll roads to private operators.

Murphy’s campaign responded, “We greatly welcome these insights to help chart a future course that gives our economy the transportation infrastructure it needs.”

How did Guadagno interpret that response?

“His campaign says they greatly welcome Gov. Florio’s ideas. How do you read that as any other, in any other way as, I am welcome and open to the idea of increasing taxes? And we know that’s the case. I haven’t heard any denials, and he’s had plenty of time to do it,” she said.

In fact, a mystified Murphy did deny it pointedly on Monday.

“I don’t know where she gets that. We haven’t talked about that once. And where’s the credibility, with all due respect? I believe in their administration, NJ Transit fares are up 36 percent,” said Murphy.

Perhaps more to the point, Murphy’s up, too. He leads Guadagno by double digits in the polls and has outdone her 4:1 in fundraising. With a mere 29 days to go before Election Day, Guadagno’s trying hard to move the needle. News reporters told her about Murphy’s flat denial, which she refused to accept.

“So which one is it? Is it the one his campaign said three weeks ago when the report came out? Or is it the one he wants right before he has to debate, and explain his conversation?” asked Guadagno.

Guadagno says the matter will be hashed out during their first televised debate, which is scheduled for Tuesday evening.