NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- CBSN New York is holding in-depth conversations with the 2021 New Jersey gubernatorial candidates.
CBS2's Kristine Johnson spoke to Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli.
The conversation began with the topic of women's rights and abortion rights.
One campaign ad makes Ciattarelli out to be completely against a woman's right to choose.
"It's not just misleading, Kristine, it's a lie. And all those commercials you see, they're all from Murphy, they haven't been from me," Ciattarelli said. "I've been very clear about this, including the two debates. I've never advocated for overturning Roe v. Wade. I don't think the Roberts court is going to overturn it, but if it does, I will always protect the woman's right to choose here in New Jersey. I do believe there should be restrictions, and we can certainly talk about those, restrictions that I think are very reasonable, very mainstream and have a support of the majority of New Jerseyans. The majority of New Jerseyans do not support Phil Murphy's positions on abortion, and even the Democraticly controlled legislature won't send him the bill that he keeps asking for specific to abortion."
Ciattarelli says he believes abortions should be restricted after five months and parental notification should be required. Additionally, he's calling for no abortions in months seven, eight and nine as performed by somebody other than an M.D.
Ciattarelli says he would not support the Reproductive Freedom Act as written.
"It's interesting that you're all of a sudden hearing about that bill being pared down because of the 120 Democratic legislators that are on the ballot this year with the governorship. They're catching a lot of flack in the community about that bill. Phil Murphy is all alone on this bill," he said.
Johnson brought up the question of COVID vaccines, saying some people are saying "it's my body, it's my right, I don't have to take the vaccine." Johnson asked why isn't it the same for women seeking abortions?
"I believe it is, and I think this is where Phil Murphy has been a hypocrite. And you'll notice he'll get very uncomfortable when you talk about 'my body, my choice,' because that's the phrase idelogy he uses with regard to abortion. I support my body, my choice. But it doesn't seem as though he always supports that when it comes to the vaccination," Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli says he got vaccinated, he promoted that and he strongly encourages people to get the vaccine, but he doesn't believe the government has the right to tell people they have to get vaccinated.
Early on in the pandemic, Ciattarelli was quoted as saying the children are not vulnerable to the virus, but they clearly are.
"What I said, Kristine, I wish I could have said better, but my position with regard to children and the virus has been perfectly consistent with the CDC, which has said that children are not as vulernable to serious illness or death. Certainly one hospitalized child is one too many. One loss of life amongst a child is one too many, and I'll always promote and preserve and protect the public health and safety," he said.
Johnson asked Ciattarelli, if he were elected governor, how he would handle mask and vaccine mandates if COVID-19 numbers were to rise again.
Ciattarelli said, "Depending on the circumstances, we'll always do right by New Jerseyans," but he added he would never mandate vaccines.
The Food and Drug Administration has been hard at work at getting COVID booster shots authorized, and the White House has been making plans for their rollout, so how would Ciattarelli aid in that if elected governor?
Ciattarelli says access and engaging community leadership where there's vaccine hesitancy are the top concerns, and he would look to Paterson, where there is a vaccination rate that far exceeds that of other New Jersey cities, as a model.
Roughly 80% of New Jersey residents who are eligible for the booster still haven't received it.
"I think that people might just be comfortable with the fact that they've gotten vaccinated and now, you know, 'Well, I don't know if I need to get the booster.' I think if you've been vaccinated, you should get the booster," Ciattarelli said.
He added New Jersey has done good job when it comes to the pandemic, but they have to stay vigilant.
Ciattarelli brought up leveraging doctor-patient relationships to get more people vaccinated.
"Phil Murphy has totally undermined the relationship between a doctor and their patients. It was last year, they gave all the doctors guidelines on what kind of refrigeration to have in place so they could be given the COVID-19 vaccine, and then they were never giving it to them. So if we want to increase our vaccination rates, leverage the doctor-patient relationship," he said.
The pandemic revealed many inequities in the state of New Jersey, including the unemployment debacle that took place where people had problems receiving their checks.
"The failure of our systems was revealed in this pandemic. We've got a 40-plus-year-old COBOL system running unemployment. Motor Vehicles has been a total disaster. Citizens have been inconvenienced left and right. The University of Chicago, Kristine, did a study of all 50 states' responsiveness to citizens during the pandemic. Guess what? Our state, New Jersey, came in dead last in terms of getting somebody on the phone, getting the response to your question, delays, fundamental services. So I'm a hands-on CEO, I'm an MBA CPA, I want to get my arms around Trenton. My cabinet will show up to work every single day, implement new systems and make sure that state government works for its citizens," Ciattarelli said.
He added he plans on making some headway to improve services at the Motor Vehicle Commission.
Congestion pricing is a topic that's hitting a nerve for a lot of New Jerseyans who commute into New York City. Right now, the MTA's plan is to charge roughly $23 for anyone entering the city going past 60th Street.
"I'm all for getting more cars off the road. I'm all for getting people to use mass transit, but this isn't the way to do it. I mean, talking about poking New Jerseyans in the eye. Considering what it is they pay to cross the river. Considering the fact that there are 400,000 New Jerseyans that work in New York, that stimulate that economy and pay income tax to New York. It's a $2 billion windfall for New York. We don't collect any income tax from those 400,000 New Jerseyans. So I'll use every lever available to me to make sure that congestion pricing doesn't go through as proposed. There's gotta be a better way, but we're not doing this to New Jerseyans. I will advocate for them every day of the week," Ciattarelli said.
Speaking of mass transit, Ciattarelli said people need to have confidence in New Jersey Transit in order to return to it.
"The reason you can't depend on New Jersey Transit is because we haven't made the necessary capital improvements, infrastructure improvements in the last couple of decades," Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli said New Jersey has $10 billion in idle funds -- $4 billion in surplus and $6 billion from the American Rescue Act.
His plan for the $10 billion is to make the necessary infrastructure improvements to New Jersey Transit and get caught up on the School Development Authority's school constructions.
Turning to the topic of gun laws, Ciattarelli says the last time he ran for re-election in the state legislature in 2014, he was the only Republican not endorsed by the NRA.
"I've always tried to strike the right balance between what is a Constitutional right to bear arms and public safety, and I'll continue to do that as governor," he said.
Gun violence is a rising problem in the Tri-State Area.
"The first thing we have to do is we have to have a governor and Attorney General ... that are going to back the men and women in blue at the municipal, county and state level. This governor has been the most anti-police we've ever had, so I'm going to make it quite clear to the police and to the community that we're going to observe the rule of law in New Jersey, and we have a governor that backs the men and women in blue every day of the week so they can go out there and do their jobs," Ciattarelli said. "And I've got to get together with the other 49 governors. One of the biggest problems we see in this country is people buying guns in other states and illegal trafficking of guns that are then brought into our own state. That needs to stop, but I need the cooperation of the other 49 governors."
As diverse as New Jersey is, there are some racial disparities that still exist today, including some of the most racially segregated schools in the country. Ciattarelli was asked if he's in favor of changing the tax code and about his proposal for flat funding.
"This is another one of those campaign lies from Phil Murphy, Kristine. The flat funding formula was put forth by Chris Christie. I didn't support it because it'll never pass muster with the state Supreme Court. We need a flatter, more equitable distribution of state aid to schools, and I've said time and time again, I'm never gonna leave any student behind, any community behind, and I'm never gonna adversely affect the quality of education," Ciattarelli said. "What we do need to do is redefine local fair share in terms of what each community can contribute to their school system and then we need a formula along the lies of 'X for every English speaking student, Y for every English language learner,' with Y being more than X, and the state needs to take over the cost of special education because there shouldn't be disparity in the quality of special ed from one district to the next. And we need renewed emphasis on vocational training because not all students want or need to go to college and they deserve the same attention as those students that are going to college."
Another racial disparity in the state is Black people are still jailed at a rate of 12 times more than that of white people. Ciattarelli said he's in favor of criminal justice reform, but he did not say if he was in favor of eliminating the mandatory minimum sentencing for all crimes in the state.
He added he doesn't think anyone should ever be sentenced to more than 1.5 times their plea deal.
Ciattarelli was also asked about the legalization of marijuana.
"It's been approved. People don't like what they see. I do think they've got buyer's remorse," he said.
Ciattarelli says if it ends up being "a disaster for New Jersey" after five or six years, he would have a conversation with the people and the legislature to see if they want it back on the ballot so that recreational marijuana would not be approved, but it would be decriminalized.
New Jersey had its first $1 billion month in sports betting in September, so where would Ciattarelli put that money?
"We need to direct this money where it's most needed here in New Jersey, and to me, that means property tax relief ... It's the one tax that affects every New Jerseyan, young and old," Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli added he does not support betting on college sports.
CBS2 asked viewers to submit questions for the governor.
One viewer asked, will the cost of living increases for the state pension ever be reinstated?
"That monthly pension check will always be there. We have enough revenue in Trenton. In fact, Phil Murphy's budget is up $11 billion in four years. That's more than 30%. Yes, he's raised every tax it is and I'm gonna make New Jersey more affordable by lowering taxes, but that monthly check will always be there for pensioners. The one thing I will never do is borrow to make a pension payment. That's good for today's pension payment, but really bad for tomorrow's. And everybody condemns Christine Todd Whitman for her bond pension scheme. That's exactly what Phil Murphy did this past year. He borrowed $4.5 billion and then made a full pension payment with it," Ciattarelli said.
Another viewer said she was looking to buy a first home in New Jersey, but she's concerned about high taxes. She asked what else can be done to help lower property taxes?
"Let's let [young people] deduct student loan interest on their New Jersey tax return, and for first time homebuyers, let's let them deduct the mortgage on their interest for the first three to five years of homeownership. For our seniors, all retirement income should be tax-free, like it is in Pennsylvania, and once you hit age 65, your property taxes will be frozen for life," Ciattarelli said.
Moving on to the subject of the environment, global warming and climate change, Johnson asked if Ciattarelli believes we're experiencing a crisis.
Ciattarelli said global warming and climate change are real and accelerated by human activity. He believes we need a national energy policy that galvanizes the American people.
"You're not going to be able to solve global change one state at a time, and as clean as we try to make our air in New Jersey, guess what? If Pennsylvania keeps burning coal, that pollution comes into New Jersey and makes life even worse for our asthmatics, so we need a national energy policy," he said.
Ciattarelli said New Jersey needs to continue with the expansion of solar power and move towards alternative energy sources that have zero carbon emissions.
Some environmentalists believe drastic changes are necessary, but Ciattarelli says he doesn't believe that entirely.
"Solar is doing a magnificent job. Zero emissions are down because of new alternative energy sources, and I do think in a very, very short period of time, you're going to see new technologies," he said.
Ciattarelli said New Jersey needs to make investments in the grid so it can handle all the new transmission of electricity from solar and wind power.
"I think a better use right now of taxpayer dollars -- getting people out of harm's way. I went on tour to neighborhoods after Tropical Storm Ida. We've got young couples that are buying homes that have been flooded 10 times in the past 30 years that are within 200 yards of the riverbank. That's an exploitation of people. The rivers are reclaiming the flood basin. We've got to use a Blue Acres program to get those homes out of there, commit that land to open space and stop exploiting people by having them buy homes in flood plains," Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli was asked how New Jersey is going to get people back into the workforce when it seems that there are jobs available but a lack of people willing to take those jobs.
"Let me be clear, we are our brothers' and sisters' keeper and there will always be a social safety net under Governor Ciattarelli and I will always be taking care of the hardship cases, but know this, if you make the benefit too easy and too long, you're going to end up with what we have right now in New Jersey," he said.
He says he thinks it's time for "a little tough love" and the Department of Labor needs to get back to verifying whether or not you're looking for work before you get your unemployment benefits.
There are a lot more registered Democrats in the state versus Republicans, so voter turnout is going to be a big issue for Ciattarelli, so what is his plan to get as many people out to the polls?
"I've been on the campaign trail from January 2020. I've been out here for 22-plus months, and I'm gonna do it for two more weeks. I can't tell you how much energy there is out there. That's why you declare early, to generate energy and excitement in the community for what can be. And I tell the people of New Jersey, if you want change, you need to make a change, and this election is an opportunity to do that. So I'm not worried about voter turnout. I think we've done a really good job of getting people energized about this election," Ciattarelli said.
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