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COMMON SENSE & COURAGE

Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler
State Capitol Building
Trenton, New Jersey
February 13, 2001

I want to begin my remarks with a quick survey.

How many of you believe that politicians always put people's interests first, and never put their personal political interests first? Raise your hand.

No one? Let's try this: How many of you believe that if you give the state politicians who work in this building more and more of your money in taxes, and give them more and more decision-making power over your life, and allow them even to withhold from you information concerning medical procedures performed by government institutions on your minor children, that you will be better off?

Hmm. Well, let me change direction and ask you this: How many of you believe that government can be a positive force in society, but that the best way for it to fulfill that positive potential is not for it to give politicians more and more power over you, but instead to empower you directly: to secure your rights, to expand your freedom and the opportunities you have to make your own decisions about what is best for you and your family?

Seems pretty obvious doesn't it?

Seems pretty Republican.

Seems pretty . . . American, even.

I am here to announce that I am a candidate for Governor of New Jersey.

I am running to lower your property taxes, lower your income taxes, lower your toll taxes, lower your car insurance rates, give you control over the education of your children, protect your freedom to choose your own doctor, restore to you local control of your public schools, and empower you to fight sprawl in your community.

In summary I am running to stop the state politicians who work in this building from increasingly taking more power over you, and to redirect the State of New Jersey toward empowering you directly - so that without having to beg politicians for a favor, you can enjoy a freer, simpler, less taxed life.

Some people think the idea of a freer, simpler, less taxed life - where you get to make decisions for yourself and your family without having to fight your own government all the time - is awfully right wing.

Give me a break.

Government ought to be in the business of expanding freedom and opportunity for you, not narrowing it. That is just commonsense, and instead of caving in to its critics, politicians ought to have the courage to stand up for commonsense.

The big issue in the State of New Jersey is taxes, and it's easy to understand why. You are taxed too much!

When you turn on the light in the morning, you pay utility taxes. When you brush your teeth, you pay water taxes. When you drive to work, you pay gas taxes and rising toll taxes. Before you get paid at work, they take out payroll taxes. After you get paid at work, they take out income taxes -state and federal. If you are married, they tax you for that too. And when you buy things, you have to pay sales taxes and the seller's corporate income taxes. You are probably dog tired from paying all of these taxes when you get home at night, but then you have to pay property taxes - which in this state are at their highest level ever. And if these high taxes make you have to sell your home, you will then have to pay capital gains taxes. Worse yet, if you become sick to death of all these taxes, they will make you pay estate taxes.

Talking about the estate tax, my Campaign Chairman Steve Forbes, says that in addition to no taxation without representation, there ought to be a new principle: no taxation without respiration. But the IRS says they don't know what the fuss is about. They say they have never had one estate tax payer complain. Come on.

The people of New Jersey say enough is enough.

But for the special interests that want more and more of your money, enough is never enough. They get in the faces of the politicians who work down here and demand that they give them even more of your money. And lacking strong leadership, these politicians often give in.

It gets them special interest endorsements. But you must pay the bills.

This isn't right, and you are not being benefited by it? Are the children in our inner cities being more successfully taught? Are our roads now less congested? No.

We can solve New Jersey's problems. We can increase our educational success, reduce sprawl, and lessen traffic congestion. And we can do it all while lessening the burden of taxes. But we have to have the courage to implement solutions that in truth are neither right nor left: that are just commonsense.

On the subject of property taxes, commonsense says that the way to lower property taxes is to control school and municipal costs. And to decrease over-reliance upon property taxes for the funding of these costs.

But to please various special interests here in Trenton, my opponent has passed bills that make it harder for school districts to control their costs. Meanwhile, to free up dollars for state spending programs, he has cut real revenue sharing with New Jersey's municipalities, forcing them to become more reliant on property taxes for their funding.

This has increased property taxes in New Jersey. You saw it last week. Property taxes are beginning to rise faster in this State, not slower as we all would like.

New Jerseyans' effective income tax rate is also rising each year. That's right. The State of New Jersey is taking a higher percentage of each New Jerseyan's income in taxes each year, not less.

Then, after it takes a higher percentage of your income in taxes, the State rebates some of that increase back to you and calls it property tax relief. But that's not honest, Republican tax relief. That's Democrat-like tax relief - what you might call "tax and spend tax relief" - where to give you tax relief the government taxes you more.

There is a better way - the true Republican way of not taxing and spending more while accomplishing less, but of reforming government so that by cutting out the waste, we can accomplish more while taxing and spending less.

Our opponents say talk is cheap: that it is easier to talk about this than it is to achieve it. I don't deny that. I've got political scars all over my body that prove how difficult it is.

But the mere fact that it takes courage to do what is right is no reason not to do it. It is what the voters elect us to do - not to take the easy way of caving in to special interests.

In Jersey City, we have kept our municipal budget and property tax levy growing by much less than the rate of inflation these past eight plus years. Yet we have improved services dramatically. For instance, our improved policing services have reduced crime by 35 percent, which is more than its average decline throughout the State. I am proud of this.

I am also proud of the fact that just two weeks ago, in a nationally broadcast 20/20 program. John Stossel specifically highlighted Jersey City's success at improving its water utility services while lowering water rates. The public-private partnership we undertook to achieve this was honored by the United States Conference of Mayors as the best public-private partnership in the country in 1998.

These successes were not easily achieved. We had to fight for them. But we won those fights and these successes were achieved.

As Governor, I will similarly hold back the growth of state level program spending to less than the rate of inflation, so that all surplus state revenue can be dedicated 75 percent to property tax relief and 25 percent to state tax relief.

The first state tax we will eliminate is the toll tax on the Garden State Parkway. We will do this first because it is so easy, and because it will reduce New Jerseyans toll taxes by a $1.85 for each $1 cost to the Treasury.

Over the longer term, the goal of our state tax reduction should be to reverse Jim Florio's income tax hikes, which have never been fully undone, but which should be undone. Lowering income tax rates will not reduce state revenue growth. It will increase state revenue growth. What would kill future revenue growth is allowing effective state income tax rates to continually rise in New Jersey year after year.

To lower property taxes, we will make it possible for school districts and municipalities to do more while spending less, just as we were able to in Jersey City. Then we will reverse the State's cuts in revenue sharing with New Jersey's municipalities, so that local property tax bills can actually go down.

We will keep the State's rebate program in place. But instead of the State increasing your income taxes just to rebate some money back to you, which you will then have to turn over to the local tax collector because of a soaring property tax bill, we will instead be cutting your income taxes, stabilizing your real property taxes, and allowing you to take your rebate check to the bank.

Commonsense and courage can also improve our schools.

Per child spending in New Jersey's public schools is already twice the national average. There is no evidence that this heavy spending has been translated into improved child learning. But now, to please government special interest groups, my opponent wants to spend even more money to build more public schools and classrooms and to hire more teachers.

Yet the problem in New Jersey is not that we tax and spend too little on education. It is that we get too little education for all of our taxing and spending.

We need to reform public education in this state by setting tough standards and by reforming tenure so that we can hold principals and teachers accountable, and replace ineffective educators with stronger performers.

My opponents say that this is right wing, but again, this is just commonsense. And clearly, what has been lacking in New Jersey is courage on the part of its leaders to fight for commonsense.

I will take up that fight. I will fight to fix our public schools. And I will also fight to end your being dependent upon politicians like me and those that work in this building, by giving you expanded school choice.

In this latter regard, I will accelerate the approval of quality charter schools, especially in over-crowded school districts. I will also provide state incentives, like those that already exist at the federal level, to encourage giving to charitable scholarship foundations. And I will establish a state tax credit for parent's direct out-of-pocket expenses educating their children.

Governmental leaders have spent a generation telling us that if we send them more of our money, they will improve our children's education - and that we can go to the beach. It's time to encourage parents to take primary responsibility for the education of their children, to encourage parents to do whatever it takes to help their children learn and succeed in life, and to let them know that if they incur out-of-pocket expenses in helping their children to succeed educationally, we will at least allow them to keep more of their own hard earned money to help with paying those costs.

Commonsense and courage can help solve many problems in New Jersey. For instance, we can decrease the problem of sprawl in New Jersey by reversing the Mount Laurel decision and restoring the power of local communities to control their own destiny.

We can reduce gun crime by more severely punishing crimes with a gun, without harassing lawful gun owners.

We can show respect for life by encouraging abstinence education in our schools and discouraging young teenagers from becoming sexually active.

I can't address all of the issues I would like to in this short speech. But the solution to so many problems ultimately comes down to having the courage to fight for commonsense.

My opponent in this primary election and I have been friends. In fact he wrote Lynn's and my will. Now, there are probably days that he would like to execute it.

But all kidding aside, I don't make this race against him lightly. I make it only because I do not believe that he will fight for needed change.

Donnie DiFrancesco will not stand up to the special interests that have opposed real reform in New Jersey. He is not his own man. He is theirs.

I am my own man. I know what I believe is right, and I am willing to fight for it.

And while I stand here as one man today, with no more strength or power to make change than one man may have, I know that we will triumph in this fight for commonsense change because you and the people of New Jersey will be with me.

Thank you and God bless you.

 


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