Battle likely over N.J. toll increase plan

February 7, 2008 3:06:01 PM PST
A leading Democrat and all 49 legislative Republicans on Thursday promised to oppose Gov. Jon S. Corzine's plan to significantly increase highway tolls to pay state debt and fund transportation. Sen. John Adler, D-Camden, vowed to vote against Corzine's plan.

"Increasing highway tolls would inflict yet another financial hardship on our hardworking taxpayers, and I oppose it," Adler said. "We should not even consider asking for one more penny from those taxpayers until Trenton assumes its share of sacrifice and makes serious cuts in government spending."

Adler, the Senate Judiciary chairman, is running for Congress this year in the 3rd Congressional District.

"The governor issued a challenge to the Legislature and to the people of New Jersey to come up with our own plan to alleviate the state's financial crisis, and that's what I intend to do," Adler said.

The 32 Assembly Republicans Thursday signed pledges opposing Corzine's plan, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. said the 17 Senate Republicans also decided to vote against it.

The move comes with Corzine about halfway through 21 planned public meetings on his plan, and before the legislation authorizing it has received a public hearing.

Republicans said their decision was easy.

"We have listened to what the governor has had to say and we do not believe that his plan to hike tolls and borrow $40 billion is a fiscally responsible course of action, " said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris.

The GOP decision doesn't doom the bill, since Democrats control the Senate 23-17 and the Assembly 48-32. But it dims hopes for bipartisan support.

"This plan will make New Jersey steadily more unaffordable to the middle class for generations to come," said Kean, R-Union.

Adler's opposition leaves Corzine with 22 potential votes in the Senate, where 21 votes are needed to pass bills.

The Republican opposition comes after Corzine received support from former Republican Congressman Bob Franks, who is helping lead the governor's campaign to pass it.

"New Jersey's financial crisis transcends party lines and the governor will continue to reach out to both sides of the aisle in his efforts to seek a bipartisan solution to this bipartisan problem," Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said.

Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, the state Democratic Party chairman, condemned Republican opposition.

"Taking a pledge to ignore the state's long-term financial problems is like promising to be irresponsible," said Cryan, D-Union. "They are being disrespectful to their constituents and they are demeaning the debate on one of the most significant problems the state of New Jersey has encountered."

Corzine also on Thursday announced 10 more people were joining the committee Franks is leading to get support. They include former transportation commissioners under both Democratic and Republican governors, a state treasurer for former Republican Gov. Tom Kean and community college presidents. The committee now has about 40 members.

Corzine wants to pay off at least half of $32 billion in state debt and fund transportation projects for 75 years by creating a new agency that would borrow about $38 billion.

To pay that money back, he 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 City Expressway, Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Route 440 would be affected.

He also wants to limit state spending and require voters approve state borrowing.