NEWARK – Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli traded sharp attacks in their first debate on Hurricane Ida response, the pandemic, abortion, marijuana – but found perhaps unexpected common ground on taxes, with both candidates promising no state tax hikes through 2025.

Asked by debate moderator Sade Baderinwa of WABC-7 if he’d pledge not to raise taxes in a second term, Murphy did so.

“I already have and the answer is yes. We’re done, 100%,” Murphy said.

“Yes, you will raise taxes?” Baderinwa asked.

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“We will not. I pledge to not raise taxes,” Murphy said. “At any time in the next four years. But I’m not making news tonight. I’ve been saying this for the past year. The answer is I pledge to not raise taxes.”

Murphy has proposed and enacted a range of tax, fee, and toll hikes in the last four years, including increases in the tax on income over $1 million and the corporation business tax.

Ciattarelli said if elected he would not raise taxes – and noted that state spending is up by around $11 billion in four years under Murphy, more than 30%.

“He’s raised every single tax and tolls. He has an insatiable appetite for taxes,” Ciattarelli said. “And the reason is because he believes if taxes are your issue, we’re probably not your state.”

Ciattarelli recited that line, a variation of something Murphy said in 2019 in remarks at Rowan University, a number of times throughout the debate, as well as repeating the math behind the $11 billion increase in state spending.

Murphy said a good portion of that increase went to pension payments, which are being fully funded for the first time in a quarter-century, and school aid, as the state gradually returns to the funding formula that was abandoned now 12 years ago.

Murphy said his administration inherited “an overwhelming affordability crisis” but has made progress on property taxes and pensions.

“He was in the Statehouse long before I got there. He rubber-stamped Chris Christie’s agenda at every step of the way,” said Murphy, who said to Ciattarelli that “somebody’s got to clean up your mess.”

“Let me say this,” Ciattarelli said. “It’s real easy to make a full pension payment when you borrow $4.5 billion you didn’t need to.”

Ciattarelli fended off criticism of his school funding plan by Murphy, who said urban districts that are disproportionately home to “Black and brown” families would be crushed by a flat funding formula.

“It is a lie to suggest that my formula is a flat funding formula,” Ciattarelli said. “I didn’t support it last time. It will never pass muster with the state Supreme Court.”

Ciattarelli did describe his proposed formula as flatter – with every district getting the same amount of money per child, plus extra for students who are learning to speak English. The state would pick up special education costs.

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