Corzine: Cut debt or no property tax relief

January 16, 2008 12:36:10 PM PST
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Wednesday said property tax relief and state aid for local governments would be at risk if the state doesn't find some way to cut its mounting debt and fix troubled finances.

"If you don't solve these problems, property tax relief will not be able to be accomplished," Corzine told several hundreds mayors gathered at the Statehouse.

Corzine has proposed significantly increasing tolls on some of the nation's busiest highways to slice state debt and fund transportation.

Corzine's Wednesday warning came after he and legislators spent much of 2007 focusing on America's highest property taxes. New Jersey property taxes average $6,330 per homeowner, or twice the national average.

As part of last year's effort, Corzine and lawmakers increased property tax rebates to $1,051 per homeowner, about $700 more than in 2006.

After speaking with mayors, Corzine said cutting those rebates would be among his "last element of choices."

"We would certainly have to try, I think, to make a commitment to do everything we can to hold the rebates," Corzine said.

But he warned mayors tough choices loom should his plan to increase highway tolls fail to get approved.

"We have what I believe is a financial emergency," Corzine s


Corzine wants to increase tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. Those increases would include inflation adjustments, and after 2022 tolls would increase every four years until 2085 to reflect inflation.

The Atlantic Expressway, Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike would be affected and tolls would be added to Route 440 in Middlesex County.

Corzine wants to pay off at least half of $32 billion in debt and fund transportation projects for 75 years.

"I don't like this one particularly myself, other than I don't know a better alternative," Corzine said of his plan.

Local officials worried about the affects of increased tolls.

Lawrence Councilman Bob Bostock said trucks would flood local highways such as Route 206 to avoid higher tolls.

"We have a big problem with it now," Bostock said.

Brick Township Mayor Steve Acropolis worried Parkway toll increases would unfairly hurt Monmouth and Ocean county residents.

"How do you justify that?" he asked Corzine.

The Democratic governor said people who live near toll roads will benefit from improvements such as widened roadways and expanded mass transit.

He also reiterated his hopes to offer discounts to frequent toll road users. He said he would prefer direct discounts, but was open to income tax breaks proposed by legislators.

"I'm more than willing to figure out how the right way to provide benefit to heavy users," Corzine said.

He said he also would favor enhancing the earned-income tax credit given to low-income residents, if they use toll roads to get to work.

The Parkway is the nation's busiest toll road and the Turnpike the nation's fifth busiest.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-01