Was Lonegan’s defeat an inside job?

Well, at least Jay Webber won… and Seth Grossman.

Bob Hugin won’t totally have his way in wrapping the State’s Republican brand in a plain brown paper.  He’s going to have a Reagan conservative and an eccentric libertarian to provide some color to the package – not to mention the incumbents, starting with the staunchly Pro-Life Chris Smith. 

What Hugin won’t have is a genuine Trump-style populist bouncing around in the orchestra, stealing the stage of an election that he plainly believes he is paying for.  Like Grossman, Steve Lonegan is decidedly his own article, but enough in the Trump mold to easily wear the costume.

McCann you say?  The most baldly dishonest campaign in memory will now be set aside, and with it, all the Trumpian rhetoric.  No, John McCann was not endorsed by President Trump, even though his campaign communications led you to believe he was.  More on this later.

It is enough for now to compare the post-truth campaigning style of a certain southern political consultant to the rather insufficient counter-measures of the Lonegan team, whose messaging was done by a consultant shared with the Hugin team.  Although completely false, McCann’s consultant had the discipline to dominate his candidate, confine him to those tasks of which he was capable, and to run the kind of sharp, focused, MESSAGE-driven campaign that we don’t often see here in New Jersey. 

If McCann’s consultant survives the recent raid on his office by the FBI, the inquires by the United States Justice Department and such, he could become a formidable presence on the field in New Jersey.  It takes a certain toughness to come up with a message so at variance with a candidate, to bully the candidate into silence, and then to brazenly run with it to victory.

Unfortunately, now the candidate will think the victory his… he will start to talk again.  Like he did last week when, in an unguarded moment, he let slip his true feelings about abortion (he won’t vote for ANY Pro-Life legislation if elected to Congress) and guns (he opposes the NRA and supports universal background checks).  Did the New Jersey Family Policy Council know this when its (c)4 lobbying arm was induced into doing an openly political mailer that buttered the Pro-Choice candidate but trashed the Pro-Lifer?  Or did they know and did they not care?  More on this later.

Not to worry though.  John McCann has served his purpose.  The candidate with the money lost (and now that candidate is a wounded, angry animal, sitting on a million dollar war chest).  But John McCann is broke.  He has eaten his seed corn.  Don’t look for him to trouble Josh Gottheimer.  And there might even be a reward in it for him.  Another lucrative patronage job perhaps?  He might end up a judge.

So the money that would have been spent in the 5th fighting off the visceral attacks of a Lonegan candidacy will now be heading… where?  Which Democrat will be the beneficiary of yesterday… perhaps they will all share in a piece of it?

Among the other lessons learned…

The party potentates who opened the bottle  of a Tony Ghee candidacy did so before its time.  They gave the newcomer no time to breathe.  It’s a solid vintage that will hopefully be available again.

And speaking of which.  We learn from the former Wally Edge that Peter Murphy is about to assume the throne of the GOP in Passaic County – the place he occupied before a certain United States Attorney, named Chris Christie, sent him away.  It’s a bad business – especially for Bob Hugin, who has made political corruption his ONLY issue.  Lonegan’s polling showed Murphy’s support to be the strongest negative against McCann.  More than 80 percent of Republicans were less likely to vote for a candidate who had his support… that’s REPUBLICANS.  You would have hardly guessed it from Lonegan’s campaign communications, but there you have it.

Surprisingly enough, Lonegan did have coattails of a sort.  In Sussex County, Lonegan-backed challengers to two incumbent Freeholders annihilated the incumbents.  It is the first time in living memory that a ticket with two incumbents was defeated in Sussex County.

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Dawn Fantasia is the principal at a charter school.  Josh Hertzberg is an administrator with the ILA union.  These are what Republican candidates look like in our populist era.  Fantasia supported Senator Steve Oroho’s negotiations over the refinancing of the Transportation Trust Fund.  She learned about it and patiently explained the details to others – and ended up cutting a radio spot to that end. People warned that it would hurt her politically, because the final deal raised the gas tax, while cutting or eliminating a host of taxes (including the estate tax) and providing property tax relief.  Another lesson learned?

John McCann injected himself into the Freeholder race, on behalf of the incumbents, who supported him.  He ran a radio spot that attacked Senator Oroho by name on the gas tax.  Former Congressman Scott Garrett came out in support of the incumbents and ran a robo-call on their behalf.  More lessons?

Lonegan won Sussex County, but by a much smaller margin – about 500 votes.  Why the difference?  Well, in Sussex, the Lonegan freeholder ticket had a strong message that they pursued relentlessly – and were quick and sharp with their counterattacks.  The Lonegan campaign itself lacked this, especially the quick counterpunches.  Fantasia and Hertzberg also had the full attentions of Kelly Hart, who had been “let go” by the Lonegan campaign in April.  She had been field director for Sussex County.

Curiously enough though, when the dust settles after the General Election, the only big changes to the line-up of elected officials in CD05 will be the election of Lonegan’s running mates in Sussex County.  Everyone else… McCann and all his running mates in Bergen and Passaic will have lost.

A few years ago, Ralph Nadar wrote a book called “Unstoppable” – in which he predicted the rise of populist movements on both the Left and the Right in response to the disconnect with the mainstream political parties.  He suggested that Left and Right reformers had much in common and therefore, the basis of a genuine “resistance” movement.

How will this translate with Dr. Murray Sabrin on the Libertarian Party ticket for U.S. Senate is anyone’s guess, but there are Libertarian candidates in Districts 5 and 11, and a Constitution party in District 3.  A Center-Left populist, Wendy Goetz, is also running in the 5th.

And finally, election night parties.  The people you meet at such things are not average Republican voters.  Many earn a living from politics – whether as a lobbyist or a vendor, a job holder or a consultant.  They are in the business of politics – even those that just secure from it a certain status, as a member of a local government perhaps, or a school board.

That is not the case with 99 percent of Republican voters.  All they get out of voting is the idea that they are checking the box for someone who thinks like they do.  Most have a general idea of what the Republican Party stands for and that they stand for that too.  That “general idea” is provided to them, largely, by the mainstream media.  And yes, it includes the points that Republicans are Pro-Life and pro-Second Amendment. 

New Jersey’s Republican political class needs to learn to live with this.  Bring to a close their 40 years war with Reagan and their contempt for our base.  Trying to pretend that you are something else or “a different kind of Republican” is not a message, it is a deflection.  For all his money spent on advertising, Bob Hugin was able to convince just 52 percent of Republicans in Sussex County to vote for him.  He will need to do a great deal better.

Let the political class make its money… but leave average GOP voters someone they can vote for.

Sadly, the party took a step back yesterday.  They took away someone who meant something to a great many average Republicans – and they did so by telling voters that McCann was just a newer Lonegan, only more conservative, and that Donald Trump endorsed him.  We all know that isn’t true. 

And on that note, we begin the General Election.

How Steve Oroho finished what Jay Webber started

In the Legislature, you can be a conservative in one of two ways... broadly speaking.  One way is to be a conscience, sit above it all, and vote accordingly.  You could not find a more perfect example of this than Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, who negotiates the prickly halls of Trenton with a Zen assuredness.  He always knows the right thing to do... and he always does it.  Instead of the wilting figure of John McCann, the YR's and CR's could do no better than to adopt Assemblyman Carroll as their Sensei.

The other way is to wade into the muck in an attempt to climb aboard the ship of state and steer it in a more desirable direction.  Sometimes the engine isn't even working and you might need to get down into the boiler room -- knee deep in waste -- and grapple with the machinery of government, just to get it sputtering in some direction.

Assemblyman Jay Webber takes this course... to a point.  He seems well enough suited to steer, but when it comes to the engine room, he doesn't want to get his hands dirty.  That's where he differs from Senator Steve Oroho.  Oroho accepts that he will have to endure the heat and muck in order to get the machine running -- and he doesn't mind busting a knuckle or two while grabbling with a boiler wrench.

A prime example are their differing approaches to preventing the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) from going bankrupt and ending the Estate Tax.  Two very conservative causes.  The TTF, funded by a gas tax, was right out of the Reagan mantra of using user taxes to fund public infrastructure.  Those who use the roads should pay for them, said Reagan, no free rides!  While the death tax -- which is what an Estate Tax is -- has been identified by conservatives for years as the destroyer of small businesses and the ruination of family farms.

Jay Webber waded into the issue assuredly enough.  On October 14, 2014, the Star-Ledger published a column by the Assemblyman.  It's title was "Fixing transportation and taxes together."  Webber was writing about how to raise the gas tax to re-fund the nearly bankrupt 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..."

Taking Webber's lead, Senator Steve Oroho got to work and began the painstakingly long process of negotiation with the majority Democrats.  Oroho was animated by the basic unfairness that New Jersey taxpayers were under-writing out-of-state drivers to the tune of a half-billion dollars a year.  He understood that if the TTF went bankrupt, the cost would flip to county and local governments... resulting in an average $500 property tax increase.  Oroho went to battle to prevent this disaster and even had to stand up to Governor Chris Christie, who wanted to end negotiations too soon and accept a weaker deal from the Democrats.

Unfortunately, Assemblyman Webber didn't stick with it.  When the time came for Jay Webber to be counted as part of that bipartisan coalition, he couldn't be counted on.  Jay got scared off by the lobbyist arm of the petroleum industry and what's worse is that he started attacking those who did what he advocated doing only a short time before. 

Remember that it was Webber who wrote these words in that column more than three years ago:  "Any gas-tax increase should be accompanied by measures that will help alleviate, or at least not increase, the overall tax burden on New Jerseyans." Jay Webber wrote those words, setting the direction.  Steve Oroho was left on his own to get the job done -- to do the negotiating.  The helmsman had abandoned the engineer. 

Webber said at the time that he believed the bipartisan tax restructuring package worked out by the legislative leaders (minus Senator Tom Kean Jr.) and the Governor would result in a net tax increase.  Oroho and others disagreed with him.  Webber is by all accounts a good lawyer, but Oroho is the numbers man.  He's a certified financial planner and CPA.  Before beginning his career of public service, Steve Oroho was a senior financial officer for S&P 500 companies like W. R. Grace and  Young & Rubicam.  It was this knowledge that enabled him to fashion the compromise that he did -- one that turned out to be the largest tax cut in New Jersey's history.

In the end, the Democrats' 40-cent increase on the gas tax was paired down to 23-cents.  The gas tax, the proceeds from which funds the TTF, had not been adjusted for inflation in 28 years, had not provided enough funding to cover annual operations in 25 years, and wasn't even bringing in enough money to pay the interest on the borrowing that was done to keep operations going (in 2015, the state collected just $750 million from the gas tax while incurring an annual debt cost of $1.1 billion).  Even so, Senator Oroho knew exactly where to draw the line... at the minimalist 23 cents and not the 40 cents the Democrats plausibly argued for.

In the end, the engineer got the job done.  Senator Steve Oroho emerged from the boiler room triumphant.  He ended the Estate Tax and secured tax cuts for retirees, veterans, small businesses, farmers, consumers, and low-income workers.  He secured property tax relief by doubling the TTF's local financial aid to towns and counties -- and prevented a $500 per household property tax hike.  He made out-of-state drivers pay for using New Jersey's roads -- and ensured that New Jerseyans will continue to have safe roads and bridges to drive on.

Oroho's tax cuts were praised by conservative groups like Americans for Tax Reform and conservative publications like Forbes, which called his tax cuts "one of the 5 best state and local tax policy changes in 2016 nationwide." 

That's getting something done.   

Murphy wants to raise taxes. Pity there's not enough GOP legislators to stop him.

And whose fault is that?

The NJGOP Establishment's second blog (both appeared during the Christie Project, the New Jersey Globe being the latest incarnation of the project's first one) decided to prate a bit over Governor Phil Murphy's threat to undo part of the compromise reached in 2016 and raise the state sales tax to 7 percent.  The NJGOP Establishment's blog thinks this an "I told you so" moment when, as anyone with even a little gray matter should know, Governor Murphy was not part of the 2016 compromise, as he did not take office until January of 2018.

In fact, the compromise is working very well for New Jersey.  The state's infrastructure is being repaired, restored, and improved upon.  Out-of-state drivers who use our roads have assumed more of the responsibility for paying for them.  More infrastructure funding is flowing to counties and municipalities, with the result that property taxes are being held in check or -- in some cases -- actually reduced.  And revenues from state taxes -- in particular, the state income tax -- are increasing above projections.  Now the Democrats who control the Legislature (some of whom participated in the 2016 compromise) might wish to jeopardize this in order to fulfill the election promises made by candidate Murphy, or they might not.  Time will tell.

The Establishment blog makes an argument against legislative compromise, calling it "unadulterated BS."  Of course, the writer cannot be so stupid as to fail to see that the Founders of our Republic fashioned a system to ensure such compromise.  Indeed, compromise has been the working necessity of every representative democracy since the beginning of Western history. 

Now compromise is quite different than surrender.  Compromise is when you give something and get something back in return.  Like re-funding the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) through an increase in the gas tax for doing away with the Estate Tax, plus four other taxes, while doubling the flow of money to counties and municipalities for property tax relief. 

This is different from what the NJGOP normally does.  Because what the NJGOP normally does is to provide votes for far-left Democrat legislation for free -- for NOTHING in return.  Yes, they just give it away.  Like they did on legislation to end the death penalty, impose the Highlands Act, fund Planned Parenthood, give tax money to illegal immigrants, pass the original sales tax increase, and gut the Second Amendment.  Heck, the other day, legislators in the NJGOP leadership cast their votes to allow people to re-write their own birth certificates and pretend that they were born one way, when they (as a matter of genetic science) were born another.  It seems science only matters when we're talking climate change. 

They gave away all this for free... and got back NOTHING in return.  And our Establishment blog criticized it not a word.

The Establishment blog complains bitterly about the lack of leadership from the NJGOP.  We agree.  The Establishment blog claims that the "gas tax increase" could have been "weaponized" for the 2017 elections.  It could have been, but that would have meant NJGOP leadership -- up front.  Instead, the GOP Senate Leader gave encouragement to both Pro and Anti compromise leaders, never actually choosing a side until it didn't matter.  In the Assembly, it was no different, waiting for word from the Governor.  As for the state party, well only a fool would have looked to them for leadership.

You cannot blame people for not following, when you will not lead!

Having no principles or platform beyond that which bellowed from a single man (apart from those placed into his head by a small coterie of handlers) the NJGOP was NEVER going to "weaponize" the gas tax or indeed anything else.  Ha!  The NJGOP failed to "weaponize" the twenty-point election landslide of a sitting Republican Governor!!!

As for Kim Guadagno.  She did a dance all right.  She literally danced with the LGBT Left and the Pro-Aborts until realizing too late that they already had a perfectly fine candidate to vote for in Phil Murphy (and he's a DEMOCRAT too!)  When Guadagno's campaign team finally decided it was time to motivate the base, it was just weeks before Election Day and way too late.  The 2017 Guadagno campaign team (the same moes who managed to lose an incumbent Republican Congressman in 2016) have been rewarded by getting to run Bob Hugin's campaign for U.S. Senate this year.  Hey, it's the NJGOP, and nothing gets you promoted quicker than a crushing defeat -- the more, the better.

And that's the heart of the matter, isn't it?  The NJGOP are losers.  They are content to lose.  After eight years of having all resources directed at one entity and everyone else being told they had to lose rather than disrespect some scumbag deal with some disreputable Democrat, the NJGOP has adjusted to losing.  That's why so many of its "leaders" are "lobbyists" -- eels feeding off the bloated carcass that once held a majority in both Chambers and the Governor's office.  The NJGOP's leaders are literally in business with the Democrats.

Don't expect any of this to change any time soon.  There are still crumbs to be gathered, still bits of the carcass to eat off.  Only yesterday, the "mastermind" of Christie project visited a legislative caucus to bask in the praise of NJGOP leaders (reminiscent of the video below).  Under this "mastermind" the NJGOP lost ground in EVERY election cycle, even as "love" for the entity grew.  Christie was elected with legislative control a very real prospect... and left with a hollowed out party and legislative numbers so low that you have to go back to the period just after Watergate.

For his next act... the "mastermind" wants to de-conservative the NJGOP.  Get rid of all those folks who persist in having principles or who continue thinking in terms of the RNC platform.  They gotta go.  What needs to replace them are Republican candidates with the principles of... LOBBYISTS. 

Before the NJGOP Establishment thinks about providing us with another lecture, it should put these few things in place first:

(1) Get Republican leaders who aren't conflicted by having business dealings with Democrats.  Make sure they support the RNC platform.  Otherwise, it's like having a Roman Catholic leader who doesn't believe in Transubstantiation. 

(2) Sell Republican principles, ideas, solutions.  Lead.  Recruit candidates accordingly.  Build the party up by recruiting and sustaining believers. 

(3) Hire people who win elections.  Don't expect someone who has never tasted victory to find it.  That's like asking the wrong dog to sniff out a hamburger stand.  What you'll end up at is a truck stop shithouse.

Webber's clone lost in LD26, spin won't change that.

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.

Did Guadagno and others "hide" from fiscal reality?

By Wm. Winkler

From all quarters, this is the season of madness.  We have the "Trump Derangement Syndrome" of the Left and in New Jersey, we have the irrationality of those who believe that you can go on forever without paying the cost of basic infrastructure.  And the madness is growing in its intensity and violence.  Recently a GOP county committeeman showed up at a meeting looking for me, walking up and down the rows of folded chairs, brandishing a firearm -- and all because I had disagreed with him on the gas tax. 

The police have had to investigate this and other incidents because certain demagogues have painted as monsters those who said it was time to face up to a debt crisis.  What should have been a rational, civil debate over tax policy has produced such violent emotion that there are now a number of people who wouldn't mind relieving themselves on our graves -- and the sooner the better, they say.  Hence a political environment where a gunman comes calling.

Is this America -- or Weimar?

Two recent direct mail pieces by Republicans illustrate the irrationality that has poisoned the debate.  One mailer, by Assembly candidate John Cesaro, attacks an opponent for voting to increase the tax on gasoline that funds the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  Mr. Cesaro, an incumbent Morris County Freeholder, makes his attack apparently oblivious to the fact that the county he runs and the half-dozen municipalities he works for have applied for and received millions in TTF funding for road and bridge repair and maintenance, as well as for other construction projects.  Without the money from the TTF, those repairs and maintenance would have to be paid for by increases in local property taxes.

Another mailer, this one from the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, goes into histrionics over the "outrageous 23 cents gas tax hike" that she was directly responsible for.  Even before taking power, her transition team endorsed $1.2 billion in new borrowing for the TTF.  They kicked the need for a gas tax increase down the road by relying on massive borrowing -- the very thing that they had criticized Governor Jon Corzine for and claimed that they would not do.

There was another enormous influx of borrowing in 2012, with the Transportation Trust Fund Renewal (V) that authorized $1.6 billion in spending each year until 2016.  More spending was authorized despite the fact that the last time the gas tax produced enough revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure needs in New Jersey was in 1990. 

The gas tax remained at 14 1/2 cents since 1988.  While every other state in America raised its gas tax to keep up with inflation, while President Ronald Reagan doubled the federal gas tax to keep up with inflation, New Jersey's political establishment did the dishonest but popular thing of not raising the gas tax and instead borrowed more and more -- and New Jersey fell deeper and deeper into debt.

While everything else was adjusted for inflation again and again, the gas tax was not.  Why?  Because politicians could point to low gas prices whenever a property taxpayer complained about having the highest in the nation property taxes.   As property taxes doubled and then doubled again -- costing taxpayers thousands upon thousands each year -- politicians would point to the gas tax and tell them they'd saved a couple hundred. 

But they hadn't saved anything.  They just passed the costs on to their children and grandchildren. 

It was all an illusion, a dishonesty willingly believed by a public who on some level must have known that it was all bunk.  After all, the average new car cost $10,400 in 1988.  Today it is $33,560.  It went against every knowledgeable fiber in their bodies to believe the nonsense that the cost to maintain the roads and bridges they drove those cars on would remain the same for 28 years.

The average citizen understands "adjustments for inflation" because they depend on them.  Retirees and others on social security receive yearly cost-of-living increases based on such inflation adjustments.  Here are the adjustments for inflation that should have triggered increases in the gasoline tax, year-by-year, since 1988:  4.0% in 1988, 4.7% in 1989, 5.4% in 1990, 3.7% in 1991, 3% in 1992, 2.6% in 1993, 2.8% in 1994, 2.6% in 1995, 2.9% in 1996, 2.1% in 1997, 1.3% in 1998, 2.5% in 1999, 3.5% in 2000, 2.6% in 2001, 1.4% in 2002, 2.1% in 2003, 2.7% in 2004, 4.1% in 2005, 3.3% in 2006, 2.3% in 2007, 5.8% in 2008, zero in 2009, zero in 2010, 3.6% in 2011, 1.7% in 2012, 1.5% in 2013, 1.7% in 2014, zero in 2015, and .3% in 2016.  But instead, New Jersey's gas tax remained at 14 1/2 cents since 1988.

They ignored the fact that the principal revenue source funding transportation in New Jersey hadn't been adjusted for inflation since 1988 and hadn't produced enough revenue to pay for New Jersey's transportation needs since 1990.    Because of the debt that was allowed to accumulate, by 2015 the annual cost of that debt to taxpayers was $1.1 billion -- outstripping the $750 million in revenue from the gas tax.

Last year, we were treated to cries about how much it cost to build a road in New Jersey.  The source was a report from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.  One was led to believe that the report was a singular event.  In fact, these problems were first identified in October 2008 and then annually after that.  Why were they not addressed?  Why was there no outcry over "road costs" from the politicians, the press, and the public when more billions were borrowed in 2009 and again in 2012?  Why was no one concerned about "road costs" so long as the state was borrowing more and kicking the costs down the road?  Why did it only become a problem when some people suggested that, after 28 years, it was time to face up to reality?

In public the politicians fretted about the size of the gas tax increase, but all the while they knew exactly why.  If members of New Jersey's political establishment wanted to know why it was necessary to raise the gas tax by 23 cents, all they had to do was look into a mirror.  23 cents a gallon, all in one hit, is what you get when politicians suspend the iron rules of economics and tell people that they can have something for nothing.  This is what happens when you don't adjust the cost of something for inflation.  A business would have gone bankrupt, but politicians know they can be heroes today and get re-elected, by passing the bill to a future generation.  It will be some else's problem.

Freeholder Cesaro and Lt. Governor Guadagno are not bad people.  In their records of public service, there is much to commend them for.  They are both good Republicans who have had positive effects on the growth of our party and on the well being of their communities.  As a stand-alone position, their opposition to a tax increase on gasoline is perfectly defensible and could well be described as "conservative."  But it is not defensible in the context of the immoral dereliction, nonfeasance, and dishonesty by the political establishment in New Jersey, who wantonly ignored the fact that for decades the gas tax had not produced sufficient revenue for the state's transportation infrastructure needs as defined by the Legislature and the Executive. 

And the violence of the emotions, deliberately stirred-up, hasn't illuminated the discussion any.