Murphy, Ciattarelli: Where NJ’s candidates for governor stand on crime, COVID, schools and taxes

New Jersey Elections

NEW JERSEY — With under two weeks to go until New Jersey voters head to the polls, Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican former state Assembly member Jack Ciattarelli sat down with PIX11 News to talk crime, COVID, schools, taxes and more. 

Murphy has been widely favored in the polls, though a recent PIX11 News poll found the race was tightening. He’s tied his rival to Donald Trump and defended his progressive agenda. Meanwhile, Ciattarelli’s aimed for a middle ground and hammered Murphy’s stance on taxes and the budget. 

Want to see it for yourself? Watch the full interviews with Murphy and Ciattarelli at the bottom of this post.

Here are five takeaways from PIX11’s gubernatorial forum:

1) NJ’s Budget and Taxes:

In June, Murphy signed a record $46.4 billion budget. He hiked taxes on millionaires and corporations. Murphy also planned to send out checks of up to $500 to 760,000 families. His most recent budget boosted overall spending by 15% over the previous budget. 

Ciattarelli vowed to reduce the budget. While he wouldn’t name specific things he’d cut, the Republican candidate actually said he’d look toward Murphy’s third-year budget.

He plans to reduce taxes if elected. 

“What I want to see is equity across the board and we don’t have that right now in New Jersey,” Ciattarelli said.

Murphy has committed to not raising taxes further if he’s elected back again. He would not commit to reducing taxes in a potential second term. 

The governor would also continue his millionaires tax. 

2) NJ Schools:

Taxes are directly tied to schools in the Garden State. Property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation, are set by local governments to support those local governments and schools.

Money from the state income tax is also used for schools.

“The current formula in my opinion is very, very arbitrary and nefarious,” Ciattarelli said. “It creates inequities in the communities in terms of property taxes.”

If elected, Ciattarelli would send a team to Massachusetts to find out how they run their school system, which he noted has a smaller budget than New Jersey’s system. 

Ciattarelli also would not support student mask mandates. 

He believes calling for masks in schools would be “an infringement of parental rights.”

There is a mask mandate under Murphy and it’s not clear when it might end.

“The virus dictates the terms here,” he said.

The governor has said he would not mandate vaccinations for children once they’re approved for all ages, but said it remains an option. 

Ciattarelli also would not support critical race theory education in schools. While he acknowledged the white privilege and a history of marginalization and oppression directed at Black Americans, he said critical race theory is the wrong way to go about teaching kids.

“Let’s teach our history, warts and all, but let’s not have our children of today feeling guilty over sins that they didn’t commit,” he said.

Murphy said what he’s done in terms of education on race is sufficient so far. He previously signed a bill requiring New Jersey schools to teach diversity and inclusion topics.

“Our kids deserve to be told the entire truth about our history and the legacy of that history, including slavery at the top of that list,” he said.

3) COVID and its Economic Impact

While more than 1 million people in the state have been diagnosed with the virus and nearly 25,000 people have died of COVID, Murphy has been largely praised for his handling of the pandemic.

Murphy’s said he’s holding off on an investigation on how long-term care facilities handled the pandemic because “we’re still in the fight.”

Ciattarelli is vaccinated and supports vaccinations, but he doesn’t believe the government has the right to tell people to get the jab. He also supports vaccination or testing guidelines for teachers.

COVID has also had a massive impact on the state’s economy. Many are unemployed and benefits for those individuals were boosted for a time. 

Ciattarelli does not support incentives for returning to work. He also feels unemployment benefits were too generous for too long.

“I’m not ever for paying people to do what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place,” he said. 

Murphy, who expressed confidence the unemployment rate would go down, launched a program offering residents $500 to return to work. 

“Our administration is committed to assist businesses in hiring workers, while providing benefits to those entering and re-entering the workforce that will set them up for success in their new jobs and their future careers,” Murphy said when he announced the incentive. “This program will help both businesses and their workers, and is yet another step that we have taken to boost our economy.”

4) Crime and Policing 

New Jersey’s gun laws are among the toughest in the nation, according to rankings by the Gifford Law Center. Murphy has instituted several new policies in his time in office.

He recently teamed up with governors in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania to share gun crime data

Murphy said the big game changer right now would be federal laws. There’s only so much he said he can do within the state itself, especially when guns come to New Jersey from other states.

“We’re not an island,” he said.

Ciattarelli agreed that working with other states is important when it comes to violence.

“You can’t solve national problems one state at a time,” he said, calling for a national background check system for guns.

Ciattarelli also feels ensuring the state has a strong police force with good officers in place is important toward achieving that goal.

“I think we’ve got to find a way to get rid of bad cops,” he said. 

Ciattarelli pointed to Derek Chauvin, the former officer convicted of killing George Floyd, as an example of an officer who should not have been on the force. 

At the same time, he noted more needs to be done to support police because it’s getting difficult to find people willing to fill the profession.

“The people that used to want to protect us don’t want to protect us anymore,” he said.

5) Ida: Infrastructure and Resiliency 

Murphy has been criticized for not declaring a state of emergency ahead of Ida, a storm that took 30 lives in New Jersey. 

His declaration came hours after the storm and tornadoes arrived.

Murphy said “the steps that mattered” still happened before Ida struck. He said there was communication with weather, police and emergency officials around the state.

FEMA issued major disaster declarations for 13 counties in the state after the storm. 

“We’re still digging out of it,” Murphy said. “We got to get out ahead of these.”

Watch Dan Mannarino’s interview with Jack Ciattarelli:

Watch Dan Mannarino’s interview with Phil Murphy:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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