PISCATAWAY, NJ - Legislative District 17 incumbent Senator Bob Smith (D) and challenger Daryl Kipnis squared off to debate in their race for Senate at Piscataway High School Wednesday night.
The debate was organized by GOP Chairman, Damon Montesano and moderated by P.J. Parker, co-publisher of an area online and print newspaper.
Smith took the first question addressing his stance on sanctuary statehood. Smith said he will vote for Phil Murphy (D) for governor who supports both sanctuary statehood and DACA.
Kipnis said he helps immigrants through his law practice, supports DACA and wants comprehensive immigration reform.
Senator Smith was asked how Murphy, if he becomes governor, will prevent taxes from rising. He answered that taxes are too high and that he does not easily vote for any tax increases, but he did vote for the millionaire's tax.
Kipnis said that New Jersey residents are the most taxed people in the country and pointed out that his opponent voted for the gas tax increase, which is regressive and hurts the poor the most. He noted that 18,000 people leave New Jersey every year because of high taxes. He wants to keep as much money as possible in people's pockets by limiting taxes.
Smith said his background is in serving the township of Piscataway and District 17 for many years and that he knows how to get things done. He spoke about helping the environment, preserving open space and pure water in New Jersey, recycling electronic waste and decreasing food waste. He cited the passage of the Highlands Act as his greatest legislative achievement, “saving 700,000 acres to help with groundwater purification.”
Kipnis said he also wants to protect New Jersey's water supply, as well as stop the Transco Pipeline and the proposed gas compression station as “they only help other parts of the country but not here, locally.”
“I believe people need to be treated as people, not taxpayers,” he said when asked why he is running for office.
To the question, what is our biggest challenge, Senator Smith said “we have mountains of debt” and that he supports Murphy “who aims to reduce debt and increase revenues.”
Kipnis replied to this and other responses from Smith that “his opponent has been in the Senate for many years and has not achieved what he now says he wants to achieve.”
When asked about how New Jersey is the highest tax state in America, Smith discussed how there are too many separate school districts (over 600) which need to be consolidated.
“New Jersey has the most expensive educational delivery system in America, and there was no reason to have all of the districts the state currently has,” he said, adding that other states have a county-based system which cuts down on the number of superintendents, lawyers, and purchasing departments that are needed.
Kipnis, who also believes the educational system should be reformed was asked if he voted for President Trump and if so would he do it again. He said he did vote for him, but has concerns and would hold him accountable and voice the concerns of New Jersey if he is elected to office.
Kipnis said he was against the gas tax increase and the Horizon Bill put forward by Governor Chris Christie. Although Smith was interested in these issues, he did not oppose them.
With regard to a question on the position of educational funding, Smith said that former Governor Corzine used a funding formula based on issues such as breakfast and special needs instead of zip codes. As a result, children with problems received greater funding.
Kipnis wants to look at improving financing to Abbott Schools to which Smith said what will he do to help less the fortunate.
“Gov. Christie cut funding for Planned Parenthood, women's health, and other programs which help the needy and I would like to refund them,” Smith said.
Kipnis agreed how funding for women's health is important and that he would help those who need it the most as well as address improving job skills and increase opportunities for the less fortunate.
Smith said he wants to continue his contribution to the state of New Jersey especially in the area of environment protection, the introduction of electric vehicles and charging stations and addressing the storm water situation.
Kipnis said New Jersey is not affordable to live in and is a difficult place to raise a family. He would like to see term limits for all elected officials suggesting how term limits are needed to get the state in line with what the founders intended.
Smith said he is being reelected by the electorate. “They do not have to vote for me if I have not done a good job,” he said.
Kipnis said we must make New Jersey affordable by reducing property taxes and increasing job opportunities. Kipnis doesn't believe the state should have to offer huge tax incentives to attract businesses to the state.
They also agreed that helping special needs families is a priority along with eliminating the hoops that these families have to jump through to get support.
"How will the candidates protect animal rights," Parker asked at the end of the debate.
Kipnis said revaccinations every three years should be relaxed and animals ought to have rights in law for punitive damages in cases of abuse.
Smith said that there is a big controversy as animal rights groups are not protecting animal rights correctly. “The public needs to be informed how to protect pets,” he said, adding that Canadian geese and deer are problems which have to addressed.
Senator Smith is asking for a fourth term reelection “to work with a Democratic Governor to make New Jersey enact bills supporting a cleaner and greener environment and economically secure state.”
Kipnis said he wants to earn the voters’ support. He said he does not believe in career politicians “who have caused the problems,” suggested that term limits will bring in new blood. He wants to make the state affordable and improve the situation of everyone, including tax relief for senior citizens.
“I came forward by myself to help, not as a part of a political establishment,” said Kipnis.
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