Republicans wave bye to Christie, jab each other in debate

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has about eight months left in office but the Republicans running to succeed him in the primary all but bid him farewell in Thursday's second and final debate.

Asked why she doesn't mention the twice-elected, term-limited Christie on her campaign website or at events, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno answered bluntly. "I'm running for governor, the governor's not."

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli summed it up during the second and final debate in Newark that aired on NJTV ahead of the June 6 primary: "We need to move beyond the Christie-Guadagno era."

Christie declined to weigh in when asked previously about the primary, but the Republicans running in one of only two governor's races in the country this year along with Virginia have been distancing themselves from him for months.

Thursday's debate cemented that dynamic.

Christie's approval ratings are near record lows.

Guadagno and Ciattarelli traded a number of barbs in the hour-long debate, but clashed significantly over property taxes, which are the highest in the country, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Guadagno has proposed a plan that includes capping property tax at 5 percent of income. Ciattarelli has called for an overhaul of the state's education funding formula to lower property taxes since they are driven in large part by local school districts.

Ciattarelli called Guadagno's plan "disingenuous, oblivious." Guadagno rhetorically asked Ciattarelli why he has adopted a "tax-your-way-out-of-it mentality."

Ciattarelli said Guadagno's plan ignores the mandated school funding formula, a major driver of property taxes. Guadagno responded that her proposal is a first step and provides immediate relief.

She attacked Ciattarelli over his call for raising taxes on millionaires, which estimates show could bring in $600 million in revenues. Ciattarelli responded that his plan, which also includes phasing out the business tax over a decade, would lower tax burdens overall.

Guadagno has been leading in the polls, though many voters are undecided and Ciattarelli has been moving up.

The lieutenant governor also has raised more cash than Ciattarelli, but he has outspent her so far.

Both opposed President Donald Trump during the 2016 election, but agreed that since he's been elected they would welcome him to campaign for them if he chose to do so.

Guadagno, a former Monmouth County sheriff and federal prosecutor, has served alongside Christie since winning election as the state's first lieutenant governor in 2009. After mostly standing behind the governor, lately she has begun to disagree with him publicly.

One of their most prominent disagreements is over the governor's $300 million planned renovation of the dilapidated statehouse. Guadagno promised to scrap the project "so fast it'll make your head spin." Ciattarelli also opposes it.

Ciattarelli has served in the Legislature since 2012 and owns a medical publishing firm.

The four leading Democrats competed in their second debate last week. Democrats Jim Johnson, Ray Lesniak, Phil Murphy and John Wisniewski are competing for their party's nomination.

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