AOC Reference Pops Up During Morris Freeholders’ Republican Primary Debate

References to tax increases, cuts, questionable reporting to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) were all part of the recent Morris County Freeholders' Republican primary election debate.

MONTVILLE – Freeholder Doug Cabana was clear and concise Monday night when he addressed a room full of loyal Republicans in this Morris County town.

“We continue to deliver quality budgets,” Cabana said, boasting about years of no tax increases to speak of.

A few days earlier. the trio challenging Cabana and his runningmates in the June 4 Republican primary claimed that Cabana and friends were distracting voters with misleading statements,. The challengers – Donald Dinsmore, William Felegi and Cathy Winterfield – ridiculed the incumbents’ claim of budget discipline, claiming they actually have raised taxes by $26 million over the last four years.

Who’s right?

In a way, both sides are right – at least technically. But we must go a bit deeper.

It is true that when you look at recent Morris County budgets, you see that the overall tax levy, which was $217 million in 2015, is now $243 million. So, there’s your $26 million increase. Unless you are a professional athlete, $26 million is a lot of money.

But there is another side here. The increase in the tax levy breaks down to an average yearly increase of a little more than $6 million, which comes out to less than 2 percent of the county’s overall budget.

Of more relevance is what people actually pay. Because rising ratables increase the tax base, the county’s tax rate has changed little in recent years. This year, it’s about 25.5 cents per $100 assessment. That’s less than a penny increase over the 2016 rate of 24.7 cents.

The county’s website says residents with assessments at the county average of $462,000 will pay about $11 more this year to support county government.  That’s less than a $1 a month increase. In simple terms, rising ratables tend to offset the dollar increase in the tax levy.

However, since political campaigns are based on quick assumptions, you can expect the challengers to continue to talk about the freeholders raising taxes by $26 million.

Asked about all this, Cabana shrugged and said his opponents’ position shows “they don’t know what they are talking about.”

It’s possible, of course, that whoever analyzed the Morris County budget did so from Wyoming.
Dinsmore’s campaign finance report originally listed a $42,000 expense for political consulting to Checkmate Strategies of Sheridan, Wyoming. No such firm exists in Wyoming, prompting the Cabana-led incumbents to ask the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate.

Dinsmore said it’s all a “clerical error.” He said the firm in question is actually named, Checkmate Action. And he has corrected his filing to reflect that. Mystery solved?

Not really. The address for Checkmate Action is the same as it was for Checkmate Strategies, a mail forwarding outfit on N. Gould Street in Sheridan. No relevant information about the firm – other than its name and address – is available from the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office. Dinsmore has declined to talk about the firm, which seems to have been created rather recently – Jan. 28 of this year – according to the Secretary of State.

Whatever happens with the election, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, ELEC says about this.

The idea of campaign finance laws is to ensure public disclosure of who actually is getting campaign money.

There is nothing rare about hard-fought  Republican primaries in Morris County. But in today’s climate, Democrats are viewed as a greater threat than even, say, five years ago.

And on Monday night, that was on people’s minds.

Incumbent Tom Mastrangelo said, “We are the team to take them on.”

The opposition slate also had the Dems in mind. Felegi, in fact, brought up Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a surprising name to pop up in a Republican freeholder primary.

Felegi credited AOC with, if nothing else, energizing young Democrats.

Stressing the need for change, the youthful Felegi said, “Who do we have? I really don’t see much.”

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