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New Jersey Republicans nominated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the race for Governor on Tuesday, while Democrats nominated former Goldman Sachs executive and one-time diplomat Phil Murphy. The general election is set for November. (June 7) AP

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has a great idea — free tuition to the state’s community colleges. He announced that goal Monday, and it would be a meaningful investment in our future, a higher-education benefit other states have managed to provide for their youth. So why not New Jersey?

Murphy has other good ideas too, like more school aid, and more pension funding. His Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, has offered her own rosy visions, including her so-called “circuit breaker” tax-relief plan that would cap individual property taxes at a percentage of household incomes.

We welcome the optimistic mood, a marked contrast to the bleak pragmatism of the Gov. Chris Christie era. That wasn’t entirely Christie’s fault; while his conservative temperament leans more on what government can’t or shouldn’t do, he took office in the throes of the Great Recession, making spending prudence a necessity.

Now, however, as New Jersey continues a slow but increasingly encouraging recovery, our gubernatorial candidates are free to indulge in more hopeful thinking along the campaign trail. But voters need more; grand visions are fine, but without practical, specific ideas on paying for these initiatives, such visions will remain unrealized.

If Murphy and Guadagno want New Jerseyans to buy into their hopes, they need to map out in some detail the potential paths to get there. Murphy talks of restructuring the New Jersey economy, renewing emphasis on neglected sectors — as if that will quickly and magically generate the new revenue to accomplish his goals. He’s also banking on taxing legal marijuana. Guadagno plans to pay for her circuit-breaker — costs of which are estimated at about $1.5 billion — in part through anticipated economic growth and cutting waste, which is just another way of saying “uh, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

MORE: Murphy commits to free community college tuition, but the math is fuzzy

MORE: Obama to campaign for Murphy

MORE: Guadagno: Murphy silence on arbitration cap telling

MORE: Editorial: Keep close eye on gubernatorial election 

This is familiar territory in far too many campaigns. Candidates whip up support for big ideas with vague explanations on how to achieve them because they don’t really know how, or if, they can pull it off. When those dreams fade, they blame economic shortfalls that supposedly couldn’t have been foreseen, and place responsibility for those failings on others.

The Murphy-Guadagno race has been a snoozer so far, with many New Jerseyans lulled by the perceived inevitability of a Murphy victory. But as we approach the final weeks of the campaign, voters need to demand more from both candidates. We can get behind many of Murphy’s proposals, and he does at least acknowledge some potential difficulties in implementation. But they’re empty ideas without real plans to fund them.

Guadagno’s circuit-breaker concept takes the important step of incorporating income levels into property-tax calculations, but if it proves unaffordable, what gets sacrificed to make it happen?

It’s easy for candidates to talk spending. But that’s not enough.

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