Two weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy’s appearance at a South Jersey business forum, and three weeks before the Assembly election, Republicans are still trying to capitalize on a statement the governor made about how single-issue voters who only care about taxes probably wouldn’t pick New Jersey.

It’s not the first time Murphy made the remark, but a string of Republicans have sought to bring attention to it in this instance. The latest, on Tuesday, was Assembly Majority Leader Jon Bramnick at a Statehouse news conference.

“It appears that Gov. Murphy is now doing ads for Pennsylvania and Florida,” said Bramnick, R-Union, who called the statement “absolutely outrageous.”

“When a governor says, ‘We’re probably not your state because I don’t really care about taxes,’ that to me is an arrogant statement and it also sends the wrong message to the people in the state who have hope for some change,” Bramnick said.

Murphy wasn’t trying to be flippant. The remark at Rowan University on Oct. 1 came as part of a nearly 10-minute answer to a question about New Jersey’s persistently low ranking in business climate surveys. He said those rankings are often rooted in factors about taxes and the cost of doing businesses.

“I don’t begrudge that. And I would say this: If you’re a one-issue voter, and tax rate is your issue – either a family or a business, if that’s the only basis upon which you’re going to make a decision, we’re probably not your state,” Murphy said.

“It’s possible we are, but I don’t think we’ll be the state. That’s not to say we don’t take that seriously, and I’ll come to that now. But if that’s literally all you care about, we’re going to lose,” he said.

Murphy said as a pro-labor state, New Jersey won’t be as inexpensive for doing business as right-to-work states. But he said the state’s education system and concentration of scientists, for example, make it a good place to settle.

“If your spectrum of inputs as you make decisions as a family or as a business is wide, we’ll compete with anybody. The wider that spectrum of consideration, the better it is for New Jersey,” Murphy said.

“So if on that list is taxes, by the way, and I’m not shying away from that. Our job is to make sure whether it’s cracking the back of property taxes or making sure that we get to a good place on incentives and that we have that tool in the toolbox, that’s on that list. It’s on the list. I got it,” he said.

So are issues like public education, higher education, health care and improving public transit, said Murphy.

“If you care about the environment, if you care about gun safety, if you care about LGBTQ communities, if you care about women’s health, sensible immigration and law enforcement policies, if you embrace diversity as opposed to create an us versus them reality, we will complete with not just any state any nation in the entire world,” Murphy said.

Bramnick acknowledged that his interpretation of Murphy’s remarks wasn’t a word-for-word quotation.

“There is a difference. But you’re also saying to the people that taxes are not his high priority. Because if your high priority as a voter is taxes, he’s saying that’s not my high priority. Or it’s not a priority. How much more clear can you be?” Bramnick said.

“Who would say that to someone who’s barely paying their property taxes? Who would say that the senior citizen in the house has to leave their home? Who’s saying that to someone who has to move out of the state away from their family?”

Bramnick said Murphy sent “a bad message to the taxpayers in this state,” however it is interpreted.

“You want to split hairs? I’m happy to split hairs on that. Yes, he didn’t say exactly what I said. But he’s sending a message to taxpayers that it’s not a priority for him. It’s a priority for the people who can’t pay their taxes in this state and the people who want to stay here,” Bramnick said.

“No, you’re right, the quote is not exactly ‘I don’t care about taxes.’ But it’s close,” he said.

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