Candidates stress taxes in 18th District race

Staff Writer


Staff Writer

Both Democratic and Republican candidates for the 18th Legislative District seats said the economy and rising property taxes are the major issues the state Assembly will have to address in the near future.

Just how they propose to go about curing the ills in these two areas is pretty much what campaigning for the November general election has been about this year.

Democratic incumbents Peter J. Barnes Jr., Edison, and Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., South Plainfield, are being challenged for the two open seats by Republicans Jasal Amin, East Brunswick, a businessman, and Robert D. Thuring, Spotswood, an attorney and Realtor.

The 18th Legislative District includes East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, Metuchen, South Plainfield, South River and Spotswood.

The Democratic candidates are proposing a tax reform convention, which would have to be approved by the public through a referendum, to come up with a system more equitable than relying on property taxes to collect the necessary revenues to operate state government. Such a change could take several years to implement.

The Republican candidates believe that more immediate action must be taken to give relief to property owners. They said acting through a convention will take too long, and state legislators must take action on their own as soon as possible.

"There is no doubt that property taxes are our No. 1 concern," Democrat Barnes said. "I feel that the creation of a constitutional convention is the only way to go. We know there must be some kind of reform, which we have known for years. However, the Legislature hasn’t gotten it done.

"A lot of people have different ideas on how the tax relief can be achieved," said Barnes, a retired special agent for the FBI and president of Barnes Security Consultants Inc. "But there hasn’t been a consensus and, consequently, nothing gets done. A convention with a mandate to come up with some specific answers through a consensus as to change how we get revenue is the only way to go."

His running mate, Diegnan, who was elected to the Assembly in November 2001, said he is also convinced that a constitutional convention will be the best way to achieve meaningful tax reform.

"We have to get a consensus of the people," Diegnan said. "There is no doubt that we must have tax reform, but I think that the only way we’re going to get that done is through a constitutional convention. Too many people think they have all the answers. I think it is important that we follow the people’s will on this issue."

Diegnan, municipal attorney for the boroughs of South Plainfield and Milltown, said he is very concerned with the state of higher education in New Jersey.

"It is imperative that we invest in our colleges and universities," Diegnan said. "It’s a space problem that forces many of our best students to go out of state to attend college. Children from middle-class families cannot afford to go to college within the state. And there is a trend for students that go to college out of state to stay in the state where they go to college after graduation."

Thuring, a newcomer to the political scene, said that the current Legislature has done nothing to create a tax convention.

"I can understand that some people might want a convention, but the current Legislature has done absolutely nothing to create one," the Republican candidate said. "The incumbents have done nothing to get something on the ballot this year. Personally, I don’t want to wait another two or three years to do something about tax reform.

"I think that the Legislature must immediately call a special session devoted solely to dealing with the property tax issue," Thuring said. "Nobody would be allowed to leave the session until something gets done. I think that it’s time the Legislature takes the bull by the horns and does something for tax relief as soon as possible without waiting two or three years for a convention."

Thuring’s running mate, Amin, also a newcomer to the political arena, said his personal campaign is geared toward seeking relief for small businesses in the state.

Amin, who operates a number of small retail businesses based out of Somerville, said escalating real estate taxes, not only in East Brunswick, where he resides, but throughout New Jersey, have become unendurable for the average family.

"We must find a way to get some of that tax money back," he said.

He said special retail taxes are making it extremely difficult for small business operators to survive.

"The state has imposed a $600 million increase for small businesses in fees and licenses, that makes it extremely difficult for the ‘mom and pop’ retail businesses to operate. That cost is filtered down to the average person as rising costs for such basic necessary items as milk and other groceries, and shelter.

"The majority of businesses in the state are the small ones, which also provide the largest job market in the state. Something must be done to help the small business people. They must have a voice in the Legislature. I would like to be that voice," Amin said.