There has been a big effort to re-write the history of what just happened in the Republican primary in Legislative District 26. The origins of the battle just concluded there go back a few years, to when Daryn Iwicki was running Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in New Jersey.
Then, things were well on the way to securing AFP's support for increasing the users tax on gasoline in order to end the disastrous cycle of debt and borrowing to fund basic repair and maintenance for the state's transportation system. After 28 years without an adjustment for inflation -- and 25 years since the revenue from the gas tax produced enough to fund the state's transportation needs -- by 2015, the state was collecting just $750 million from the gas tax while incurring an annual debt cost of $1.1 billion. Something had to be done.
Senator Steve Oroho (LD24) and others had the idea of getting rid of the estate tax as part of a deal to address the imminent bankruptcy of the state's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which funds most of the state's transportation needs. One of those others was Assemblyman Jay Webber (LD26), who famously advocated such a deal in an opinion piece published in the Star-Ledger on October 14, 2014. Its title was "Fixing transportation and taxes together."
Assemblyman Webber advocated raising the gas tax to end the debt cycle and fund the TTF, while offsetting that tax increase with cuts to other taxes. He zeroed in on the estate tax:
"NEW JERSEY leaders are grappling with three major problems: First, New Jersey has the worst tax burden in the nation. Two, New Jersey's economy suffers from sluggish growth. And third, our state's Transportation Trust Fund is out of money. There is a potential principled compromise that can help solve all of them.
Of the three problems, the Transportation Trust Fund has been getting the most attention lately, and for good reason: It's broke. There is just no money in it to maintain and improve our vital infrastructure. Without finding a solution, we risk watching our roads and bridges grow unsafe and unusable and hinder movement of people and goods throughout the state. That, of course, will exacerbate our state's slow economic growth.
...we should insist that if any tax is raised to restore the TTF, it be coupled with the elimination of a tax that is one of our state's biggest obstacles to economic growth: the death tax. By any measure, New Jersey is the most extreme outlier on the death tax, with worst-in-the-nation status...
New Jersey's death tax is not a concern for the wealthy alone, as many misperceive. We are one of only two states with both an estate and inheritance tax. New Jersey's estate-tax threshold of $675,000, combined with a tax rate as high as 16 percent, means that middle-class families with average-sized homes and small retirement savings are hit hard by the tax.
It also means the tax affects small businesses or family farms of virtually any size, discouraging investment and growth among our private-sector job creators. Compounding the inequity is that government already has taxed the assets subject to the death tax when the money was earned. Because of our onerous estate and inheritance taxes, Forbes magazine lists New Jersey as a place "Not to Die" in 2014.
That's a problem, and it's one our sister states are trying hard not to duplicate. A recent study by Connecticut determined that states with no estate tax created twice as many jobs and saw their economies grow 50 percent more than states with estate taxes. That research prompted Connecticut and many states to reform their death taxes. New York just lowered its death tax, and several other states have eliminated theirs.
The good news is that New Jersey's leaders finally are realizing that our confiscatory death tax is a big deal. A bipartisan coalition of legislators has shown its support for reforming New Jersey's death tax..."
Unfortunately, the leadership at AFP changed and decided to become part of a political strategy advocated by some GOP Senators. This strategy argued that the gas tax was a game-changer that would result in a backlash that the GOP could harness to achieve power, much in the way they had in 1991-93. Extensive polling by a well-respected survey research firm was produced in support of what by now had become a certainty in their minds. The gas tax was a "third rail" (they said) that would end the career of any Republican foolish enough to vote for it and that would propel the GOP into majority status.
When the time came for Jay Webber to be counted as part of a bipartisan coalition to get the deal done, he couldn't be counted on. Jay got scared off by AFP and people like NJ101.5's Bill Spadea. Webber began to enthusiastically attack those who did what he advocated doing only a short time before. One of those was his running mate, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce.
DeCroce found herself cut off from Webber and running alone -- facing two "anti-gas tax" opponents who made no bones about who they were targeting: Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce. Both opponents were Morris County Freeholders with generally conservative records. One, Freeholder Hank Lyon, specifically identified with Assemblyman Webber and shared many of the same supporters, in addition to the same issues-grid and talking points. Like Webber, Lyon billed himself a "movement conservative" despite the fact that the father of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan, had not only endorsed the gas tax as a user tax -- he had doubled it as President.
In the end, Freeholder Lyon -- Assemblyman Webber's "clone" -- came up short.
While some have noted the involvement of non-public, blue-collar, union money in the LD26 race, they neglect to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of prime radio time spent driving up the negatives of the "gas tax" and building momentum to specifically turn out of office legislators who voted for it. The FCC is currently doing an analysis of the time spent on this campaign and its fair market value. Add to this the cost of the petroleum lobby's efforts -- in particular AFP -- and we soon see that the working men and women were once again out-spent by corporate interests.
In closing, let us remind our readers that the most effective advertisement used against the Republican ticket in 2008 wasn't reported on any campaign finance or disclosure report. It was simply a series of commercial broadcasts -- political attack ads, masquerading as comedy.