After primary win, Guadagno promises N.J. property tax relief

 Republican nominee for New Jersey governor Kim Guadagno (center) promises lower property taxes during a press event in the suburban kitchen of Rennie and Phil Wessner. Seated to Guadagno's right is Evesham Mayor Randy Brown and on her left is homeowner Rennie Wessner. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Republican nominee for New Jersey governor Kim Guadagno (center) promises lower property taxes during a press event in the suburban kitchen of Rennie and Phil Wessner. Seated to Guadagno's right is Evesham Mayor Randy Brown and on her left is homeowner Rennie Wessner. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After winning the Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday night, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno made a promise: She will not seek re-election if she doesn’t lower property taxes.

But first, she has to win in November.

During her first post-primary stop at a home in the South Jersey suburb of Evesham Wednesday morning, Guadagno said voters can expect a showdown with her Democratic opponent, Phil Murphy, over this perennial problem. 

“The election in November is really, quite frankly, going to be a referendum on taxes and how we can’t spend any more money,” said Guadagno, sitting at a marble kitchen island. Next to her, were homeowners Rennie and Phil Wessner — the CEO of her family-owned manufacturing company and the vice president of a local bank — Evesham Mayor Randy Brown and two other local officials.

Guadagno is not attaching a percentage to her property tax promise, but she is talking up “circuit breaker” plan. The idea is homeowners would not pay more than 5 percent of their incomes on the school portion of their tax bills, and the state would pick up the rest of the tab — the same way a circuit breaker cuts the power when too much current is flowing through an electrical system.

But Guadagno is still getting questions about how Trenton could afford the $1.5 billion price tag.

“One of my concerns about your approach to taxes is whether that would impact our schools’ ability to pay for the education of our children,” said Jay Levenson, a former Evesham school board member and head of the local Republicans club.

In Evesham, a family making the annual median income of $97,100 (“which is pretty good actually,” Guadagno said) would save $406 under Guadagno’s plan. 

“So your question is who’s going to fill the gap, and it’s a fair question,” she said. “The answer is Trenton would have to find the money to send it back to you.”

“The money is there — it’s a $35 billion budget,” Guadagno told reporters later out on the Wessners’ front lawn. 

To find it, Guadagno wants to trim any fat in state government, proposing a full performance audit that could involve layoffs. 

“If you’re not doing your job, and we’re paying you, then we shouldn’t be paying you,” she said.

Her campaign hopes to use this issue to draw a clear contrast with Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, as she embarks on her “Main Street, not Wall Street” tour of the state. (Murphy’s property tax plan includes a combination of growing the state’s economy and boosting jobs; consolidating local government services; and bringing in $1 billion a year in revenue from a millionaire’s tax and legalizing marijuana.)

With 154 days to go until the general election, it’s unclear what role Gov. Chris Christie, will play on that journey.

Guadagno would not say whether she wants Christie to join her on the campaign trail — or why she neglected to mention her boss of eight years in her primary victory speech.

“What I talked about was my values and my record and my principles and how I would govern as the next governor of the state of New Jersey,” she said. “I don’t think Gov. Christie will be on the ballot in the fall, so that’s why I talked about my credentials.”

Before his failed presidential bid, Christie was stumping for Republican candidates across the country. Now, the governor’s approval ratings have been below 30 percent for the past year.

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