In three weeks, New Jersey’s registered voters will cast their ballots for governor and all 120 members of the state Legislature. If past is precedent, most will vote their pocketbook on issues like property taxes, police salaries, pensions and tuition payments. One independent candidate for governor’s campaign platform calls for a property tax revolution. Gina Genovese sat down with Correspondent Michael Hill.
Hill: Ms. Genovese, thank you very much for joining us.
Genovese: Thank you, Michael. It’s a pleasure.
Hill: Your top issue here is lowering property taxes. You’re talking about reducing property taxes by 15 percent over four years. How would you do that?
Genovese: Well, first of all, the entire country pays $300 billion in property taxes and New Jersey pays, well, we’re closing in on $30 billion. So, New Jersey has a property tax issue. It’s hard to say that we cannot improve upon it when we’re paying 10 percent of the entire country. When you look at New Jersey with the 565 municipalities and the over 600 school districts, you start to see some fractured administrations, and too many, and that’s what we’re paying for, Michael. I got a chance to work with the Princetons, who had a successful consolidation in 2013. They saved $3 million, they have a better police department, a better Department of Public Works. I’ve worked with South Hunterdon Regional school system that had four separate school districts that now has one unified one that is better for the students. I think this is the direction that we need to go.
Hill: So, if that’s the direction that we need to go and you’re getting those results, why aren’t more towns and municipalities consolidating?
Genovese: I was executive director of Courage to Connect NJ for eight years. I founded this organization, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, to work with local officials, taxpayers, school board members, fire commissioners, very, very successfully. But unless we have leadership at the top, leadership in the State House, this issue is not going to more forward. And that really was my interest in running for governor. Because I felt like the people needed the opportunity to vote for someone that was a leader on this issue and address the number one issue in New Jersey, which is our high property taxes.
Hill: That’s a big issue for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican in this race. She’s talking about her circuit breaker tax reduction. What do you think of that?
Genovese: One of the problems between the school funding formula and the circuit breaker is we do not reduce costs by one dollar. All we’re doing is trying to figure out who’s paying for what and moving money around. We’re not solving the problem. We have a beast here and it’s called too many administrative structures. Unless we reduce that, unless we starve the beast or reduce the beast, we’re really not doing anything rather than shuffling money around. It’s not really solving the problem.
Hill: The governor is offering and the City of Newark is offering some $7 billion in tax incentives to Amazon. The deadline for towns and states to apply is Oct. 19. Your thoughts on that offer and what should New Jersey do, if anything, to attract Amazon’s second headquarters?
Genovese: I just really am against it. I think putting $7 billion in New Jersey, where you have a lot of counties that are hurting economically, putting it in one area is just not helping the whole entire state. We have to lift up Gloucester County, Sussex County, Salem County, we have to lift the whole state up. That’s how we become a vibrant state. Not just putting it in one area.
Hill: Are you saying you don’t want Amazon’s second headquarters to come here?
Genovese: I’m saying that we have to be careful and tread lightly because $5-$7 billion in tax credits could be spread out across the state. We could focus on more areas so that we all lift up. And the jobs, for $7 billion in tax incentives, maybe we can go out and get more than 50,000 jobs, new jobs potentially, potentially.
Hill: New Jersey’s been struggling with this pension issue. What’s your plan, your recommendations, to deal with the pension issue in New Jersey?
Genovese: Well, the pension issue is not a glamorous issue, but it could take New Jersey to its knees. It’s a very difficult issue and we have to face it. We’ve just been doing inaction and talking about how we have this problem and who did it, and now it’s time that we have to address it. It has to be done with reforms. It has to be done with instead of gauging your pension for the last two to three years of your salaries, maybe it needs to be the lifetime salary. We have to cut down on people who are collecting their pensions and working perhaps when they shouldn’t be collecting their pensions working in the system. So, there has to be some reforms and some reigning in a little bit of the inequities in the system, as well as funding it. But everyone is going to be hurt when it comes to the pensions, everyone. There’s no one that’s not going to be hurt by addressing that issue. It’s an issue that can bring us to our knees and we need to address it now.
Hill: You favor legalization of marijuana?
Genovese: I favor it as a ballot initiative. I feel like the people should be able to vote on it. I don’t think it should be legislative, so I think it’s time to put it on the ballot.
Hill: You don’t have a lieutenant governor candidate on the ballot with you. Why is that and what does that signal to voters out there? That you’re a protest vote, what is it?
Genovese: Well, I had Derel Stroud as my lieutenant governor and some things happened to him politically where he felt that it was better if he withdrew than stayed on my ticket. So it was a little bit of a political problem that happened and I have to run by myself now. It’s not the best way, but it’s what I had to do.
Hill: So if you win, how would you handle the lieutenant governor issue?
Genovese: I’d appoint my lieutenant governor at that point. I’m sure there’s be a long line, so I can have a good quality one at that point.
Hill: Gina Genovese, independent candidate for governor of New Jersey. Thank you very much.
Genovese: Thank you, Michael.