Murphy, Ciattarelli square off in raucous final debate before New Jersey’s Nov. 2 election

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli squared off in a final gubernatorial debate before the Nov. 2 election, an affair perhaps best noted for its repeated audience interruptions.

“A debate has broken out at a hockey game,” Murphy, who was on the receiving end of numerous boos throughout the evening, declared at one point during a raucous hour-long debate at Rowan University in Glassboro.

Murphy, a Democrat, sought to tie Ciattarelli, a Republican, to former President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Ciattarelli worked to position Murphy’s leadership as a failure on various issues, ranging from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic to the growing state budget to handling complaints at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

“You increased the budget $11 billion. If he had cut everybody’s property taxes in half, I wouldn’t have run for governor, I would have endorsed him,” Ciattarelli said. “The budget’s up $11 billion. People don’t want a hand out, they want a hand up, and they want lower property taxes in this state.”

“That’s a bunch of,” Murphy seemed to say in response before stopping. “That is offensive. That’s another example of forward-backward. If you’re out there, a handout? I mean, come on man. You’re not paying your bills.”

The state’s finances have been bolstered by borrowing more than $4 billion and receiving an additional $6 billion in COVID-19 relief money from the federal government, seemingly giving the state a $10 billion “budget surplus.”

“First of all, on the budget that I signed for the current fiscal year, all $4.2 billion that we borrowed is spoken for; there’s a big bucket for debt repayment and there’s a big bucket for debt avoidance,” Murphy said.

However, the issue came to a head on a question about a dedicated funding source for NJ Transit.

“If you talk about the mess that we inherited, the mess within the mess was NJ Transit,” Murphy said. “… I’m open minded to a permanent source but we’re not waiting for that. … It was pathetic what we inherited, and this used to be, by the way, the number one transit system in America. Perennially, it was held up as the gold standard. It had been ruined by the administration that preceded us, and we’ve turned this thing around.”

Ciattarelli seized the opportunity to criticize Murphy for shifting blame rather than offering a solution.

“One of the things that infuriates the people of New Jersey, you asked for the job. You asked for the job,” Ciattarelli said. “You knew what you were getting yourself into. And yet, you know what we hear repeatedly from you, it’s always the previous administration’s fault or Donald Trump’s fault.”

“That’s cause it’s the truth,” Murphy shot back.

Specific to the NJ Transit funding question, Ciattarelli said he favors using the state’s apparent budget surplus to invest in transit and schools.

“We’ve got $10 billion right now to take care of our greatest priorities in terms of capital investment,” Ciattarelli said. “That means SDA, School Development Authority schools, and New Jersey Transit would be my top two priorities for that $10 billion. If we make the necessary capital improvements, you’ll see vast improvement in the operation of New Jersey Transit.”

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