Stalled toll hike plan costing millions

April 15, 2008 2:10:58 PM PDT
The state has spent $7.3 million so far on the governor's stalled plan to increase highway tolls and may soon spend more. Treasurer David Rousseau said the money was spent on legal fees and consultants who developed Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposal to significantly boost tolls on the Atlantic City Expressway, Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike to pay debt and fund transportation.

The plan has stalled since being unveiled in January because it lacks legislative support and drew heavy public opposition.

The $7.3 million in spending comes as Corzine seeks $2.7 billion in cuts to tackle state budget woes. By comparison, the administration wants to save $4.5 million by closing nine state parks.

Corzine has acknowledged his plan lacks support and is weighing alternatives while he concentrates on passing a $33 billion budget that calls for the cuts.

Legislators have suggested lesser toll increases, increasing the gasoline tax and putting tolls on Interstates 78 and 80, but nothing official has been considered.

On top of the $7.3 million already spent, the state owes its financial adviser, UBS, $365,000 for the plan, Treasury spokesman Tom Vincz said. And Rousseau said a new plan will require more spending, though he said already-completed engineering and legal work could be used in any new plan.

"If any proposal is resurrected during the next fiscal year, we will probably have to spend money on different aspects, different studies, different things that we need done, different ideas that come from the Legislature that we want to study," he said.

He didn't know how much money that might mean.

"If it is decided by the governor and this legislative body to consider other options, there will be money spent," Rousseau said.

"Can I tell you what that amount will be right now? No."

Assemblyman Joe Malone, R-Burlington, suggested passing legislation that would set exact spending levels for the administration as it continues working on a plan to cut debt and fund transportation.

"Wouldn't it be better to outline in a piece of legislation exactly what the parameters are, what we are intending to review, rather than doing it this way?" Malone asked. "Right now nobody knows exactly how this money is going to be spent and what it's going to be spent on."

Malone said the state needs to scrutinize every dollar as it weighs cutting funding for vital services and imposing new medical co-payments for the poor and elderly.

"Every dollar becomes precious," Malone said.

Corzine in January proposed increasing tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. The increases would also include inflation adjustments. After 2022, tolls would increase every four years until 2085 to reflect inflation.

The money would pay at least half of $32 billion in state debt and fund transportation improvements for 75 years.

The plan aimed to save the state about $1 billion per year.


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