- Associated Press - Monday, November 13, 2017

BERKELEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday took their tax overhaul tour to New Jersey, where they promised legislation moving through Congress would simplify the tax code and ease burdens on taxpayers.

Trump and Mnuchin spoke at the Bayville Fire Hall alongside outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who introduced them, and GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, who represents the district where the event was held.

The event lasted roughly a half-hour, with members of the invitation-only audience allowed to submit questions in advance. About two-dozen pickets protested the Republican tax plan outside the event, including one holding tombstone-shaped sign that said “RIP Middle Class,” and the event itself was interrupted twice.

Jason Ireland of Brick was blocked from entering before the event and shouted into the room, “Why are they taking questions only from Republicans?”

Toward the end of the question-and-answer forum, Democratic voter and activist Marianne Clemente, of Barnegat, asked MacArthur whether she could ask a question, but was denied. She criticized the tax plan afterward.

“The middle class are gonna be hurt by this,” she said.

Trump, a senior adviser to her father, President Donald Trump, has been promoting the plan across the country.

The proposals in Congress pose problems for New Jersey, where property taxes are among the nation’s highest. The average property tax bill in New Jersey was about $8,500 last year, according to the state.

The House bill allows homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes while the Senate proposal unveiled by GOP leaders last week eliminates the entire deduction. Republicans are calling for cutting corporate rates and reducing the number of brackets on income tax from seven to four.

The House and Senate versions would eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes and sales taxes paid.

“The simplicity is so important,” Ivanka Trump said. “When you think about 94 percent of Americans require assistance to fill out their taxes. That’s absurd. That really is absurd, and that doesn’t benefit the ordinary Americans.”

MacArthur said the House bill won his support after the $10,000 property tax deduction cap was included. He had previously opposed the measure, he said.

Asked about why more audience questions - especially critical ones - weren’t included, MacArthur said the event was about giving Trump and Mnuchin a platform to talk about tax reform.

“What we wanted was to give them a chance to speak and let people hear them speak,” he said. “As you know, town halls can get out of control. That’ not what I was after today.”

Some of the attendees were supportive of the proposal, though not optimistic they would necessarily save money.

Jean Hopkins, of Berkeley Township, said she was “not fully confident” that she’ll save money under the GOP plans.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “I just think with the administration we have the right people working for us.”

The event came the same day Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy held an event in Newark with Democratic lawmakers to criticize the plan.

“This is not reform,” Murphy said. “It’s a scam.”

Murphy has promised to oppose Trump in New Jersey, particularly on immigration and health care. He takes over from Christie on Jan. 16.


Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini

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