Buono Says Campaign Focus Is the Economy

The race for governor is heating up between Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Barbara Buono. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss her campaign and how her administration would differ from Christie’s.

The economy is still in the recovery process, but Buono said officials still have to work on the environment. She claims that Christie has undermined environmental progress during his tenure. “He pulled out of this regional greenhouse gas initiative, which was this multi-state consortium which was creating green jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Buono also said that Christie’s decision to pull out of the ARC Tunnel project was a mistake. She said it would have taken more cars off the roads as people took public transportation into New York City instead of personal vehicles. She also said the project would have created 6,000 construction jobs.

Christie said the project would be too great of a burden on New Jersey taxpayers, but Buono said that’s debatable. “The governor turned away $3 billion of federal funding,” she said. “New Jersey had a portion of it, but you know what? It was well worth it. And [Transportation Secretary] Ray LaHood tried to reassure the governor that New Jersey would not be on the hook.”

Buono said she would definitely revisit the ARC Tunnel project if elected governor. “I still lose sleep over it. It took decades in the making. It was well planned out and it should’ve happened,” she said.

On the issue of controlling gun violence, Buono said Christie’s task force recommendations don’t go far enough. “The findings really fall far short of what we need to be doing. It doesn’t focus enough on guns. We should have universal background checks. It’s not gun control. It’s common sense,” she said.

Terrorism is on the minds of many after the Boston Marathon bombing and the arrest of men who were allegedly planning to attack a Canadian passenger train. When asked if she believes a controversial surveillance program where the NYPD investigated Muslims living in New Jersey is necessary, Buono said, “I think that we have to work in conjunction with the federal government, with our sister states and making sure that we have adequate surveillance and adequate strategies to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Buono said there are never enough strategies against terrorism. “You can’t ever 100 percent prevent this sort of thing from happening, but we have to do our very best,” she said.

In the gubernatorial race, Christie has raised much more money than Buono. Buono has reportedly raised about $1 million and Christie has about five times as much. One of his advisors, Bill Palatucci, said he expects the governor to have raised $6 million or more by June. But Buono said she’s not worried about the discrepancy.

“This governor was outspent 3-to-1 by Gov. Corzine. So if it was strictly a function of how much money you had, he wouldn’t be governor,” Buono said.

She said the gubernatorial race will be very competitive, including on the monetary front. “We will be competitive in terms of fundraising. We are doing well. We are building momentum as we speak. And I think you’re gonna be surprised,” Buono said.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage has said Buono’s campaign would be stronger if she spent less time attacking the governor and more time outlining her own plans. Buono said she has known Bollwage for a long time and is glad he wants to be involved in the campaign. “We are generating such enthusiasm among our ranks,” she said.

When asked if Bollwage had a point about her campaign, Buono said she wouldn’t editorialize on his comments, but said she is focusing on the economy.

“We have way too many people out of work — over 400,000 people out of work. And the middle class has actually shrunk under this governor,” Buono said. “People are hurting and the afterglow after Sandy is wearing off and unfortunately people are having to focus on that they’re struggling here in New Jersey and this governor has no economic plan that addresses it, bottom line.”