- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno flouted fellow Republican, Gov. Chris Christie, when she came out against a proposed constitutional amendment dedicating the newly hiked gasoline tax to transportation projects, but she also put herself at odds with business leaders with whom she’s spent years cultivating relationships.

Guadagno recently voiced opposition to the proposed amendment, which appears on Tuesday’s ballot and which many view as a no-brainer, designed to keep lawmakers from digging into the transportation trust fund.

But her position was in sharp contrast Thursday with those of business leaders, legislators and others at a news conference in support of the ballot question.

The disagreement comes just as the 2017 race to succeed Christie gets underway, with Guadagno considering a run for the office. It’s rare for her to break from Christie, but understandable since the governor signed the unpopular gas tax hike into law and has record-low approval in New Jersey, experts say.

Her take on the ballot question has found a like-minded soul on New Jersey radio station 101.5FM, where host Bill Spadea has launched a campaign against the measure. But her opposition has alienated some in business.

“I was surprised,” said Tom Bracken, president of the state Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the business-labor group Forward NJ that backs the question and called the news conference. “It has caused us to have another little hurdle we have to overcome, definitely.”

Forward NJ is a coalition of 80-some business groups and unions. Among them are Verizon New Jersey, the New Jersey Bankers Association and the Council of Engineering Companies. The New Jersey Business and Industry also favors Question 2.

The coalition has raised about $636,000 in favor of the question and a “no” vote Tuesday would be a huge setback. Supporters worry that without dedication of the tax, lawmakers might use the fund for other purposes, racking up debt.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, says that if it fails, lawmakers in theory could spend the cash frivolously, even for “new drapes at the statehouse.”

But Guadagno argues that a “no” vote would deny lawmakers the constitutional authority to borrow up to $12 billion over eight years. Also, because of the wording of the transportation trust fund law, she said, passage of the ballot question would force reconsideration of the 23-cent-per-gallon hike on the gas tax.

“A NO vote is a vote against billions in debt without the means for repayment,” she said in a recent statement.

It’s unclear how permanent or deep Guadagno’s break with the business community is. But it’s a constituency that typically aligns with Republican policies against hikes in corporate taxes and a higher minimum wage. Christie called out business leaders for not doing enough to support Republicans at a business summit in December, a possible sign that even if business leaders are angry with Guadagno, she would be a better choice than a Democrat in 2017.

Guadagno has toured the state over seven years meeting with business leaders and developing a strong relationship with them. In 2015, she was honored by the Chamber of Commerce as the Business Advocate of the year; she chaired Christie’s regulation-cutting commission whose aims business groups generally favored and she jokes that most entrepreneurs in the state have her cellphone number because she readily hands it out during speeches.

But it’s clear that her position on Question 2 has at least hit a sour note.

“The lieutenant governor’s position on ballot Question 2 is irresponsible and reckless,” said Anthony Attanasio, the executive director of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association. He said her position doesn’t make sense and could put taxpayer funds at risk of being misused.

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