CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — State Senate candidate David DeWeese says his opponent, incumbent 1st District Sen. Jeff Van Drew, is a tax-and-spend Democrat in fiscal conservative’s clothing.

DeWeese, a Republican, said taxes proposed by Democrats such as Van Drew are the reason so many residents and businesses have fled the state.

“He continues to portray himself to voters as a conservative legislator,” DeWeese said. “I think it’s important for the public to understand that’s not the case. The fact is he’s a tax-and-spend Democrat.”

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DeWeese counts at least 35 taxes and fees Van Drew supported as a lawmaker, including a cigarette tax, an HMO tax, a car-rental tax and corporate business surcharge all levied in 2006.

Van Drew also supported a nuclear electricity-generating tax, a 2004 increase in motor-vehicle registration fees, a higher income tax and the 2005 elimination of tax breaks on pension income.

DeWeese’s analysis of Van Drew’s voting record also turned up two more Motor Vehicle Commission increases, a 2005 builder’s tax, another cigarette tax, a permanent health care tax, a tire tax, a billboard tax, a cell-phone and telephone land-line tax, new realty-transfer fees and unsafe-driving surcharges.

All of these measures generated about $3 billion in new taxes and fees in New Jersey since 2002 when Van Drew was first elected to the state Assembly. Meanwhile, DeWeese said, the state lost $70 billion in wealth from 2002 to 2009 largely because businesses and residents left New Jersey to escape taxation.

“New Jersey residents have been taxed enough. Enough is enough,” DeWeese said. “The property-tax issue is hurting every resident. All of these increases have contributed to the economic crisis that people in our district are facing.”

Van Drew said he opposed many taxes and fees that would have put a burden on his district, which includes Cape May County and parts of Atlantic and Cumberland. For example, he fought increases on the state’s toll roads and opposed former Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to privatize these highways, he said.

He led the repeal of the state’s gym tax, he said. And he lobbied to spare fishermen from a new recreational saltwater fishing fee.

“The Business and Industry Association endorsed and supported me. As a rule, they don’t endorse too many Democrats. It’s because of my stance on being pro-business and being anti-regulation, anti-tax and anti-fee and being fair,” he said.

Van Drew agreed with DeWeese on this much: New Jersey residents are overtaxed.

“The general notion that we’re taxed, fee’d and tolled too much in New Jersey is absolutely true,” Van Drew said. “You can’t blanket-increase these fees and taxes every time there is a fiscal or budget challenge. You need to make cuts. You need to run the government more efficiently.”

But Van Drew said taxes are appropriate in some instances, such as if New Jersey approves sports betting.

“Every time we do it, it supposedly is the ultimate answer. The income tax was supposed to provide property tax relief and take care of school taxes. Sales tax was the same thing. We have as many problems now as we did before those taxes,” he said.

DeWeese said he is not in favor of levying any additional taxes. But he said he would not speculate about how he would have voted on those same measures.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘If you had been there, would you have voted for it?’ He was there,” DeWeese said. “My position is I’m not in favor of any additional taxes or any increased taxes. I would do anything I can in Trenton to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The election is Nov. 8.

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