Freeholders won’t back Corzine’s toll-hike plan

By DON BENNETT • TOMS RIVER BUREAU • January 12, 2008

TOMS RIVER — Gov. Corzine is getting a little sympathy, but no support, from the Ocean County freeholders in his bid to raise tolls to rescue the state’s finances.
“I’m glad we’re not him. It’s a shame the mess the state’s in,” said Freeholder James F. Lacey said. “It’s a quagmire and it’s going to be painful to get out.”

Lacey said he listened closely to Corzine’s State of the State message that included plans for 50 percent toll increases every four years, starting in 2010, to right the state’s floundering financial ship.

 Gov. Corzine is getting no support from the Ocean County freeholders for his toll- hike plan, even though the board members say they understand his fiscal dilemma.

“Corzine is the least responsible for the fiscal nightmare we have in Trenton,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who prior to his retirement was chief of staff for the Republican lawmakers in the 9th Legislative District.

But he said the governor is “creating a new bank to borrow more money” with his plan to appoint an independent agency to borrow against the future toll increases.

“It’s just more borrowing,” said Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. “He’s spending future revenue.”

Corzine should just take the added money from the toll hikes and spend it, not create more debt based on anticipated revenue, he said.

“He’s trying to retire the state debt on the backs of those who use the toll roads. That will dramatically impact Ocean County,” where many people use the Garden State Parkway to get to and from their jobs.

Bartlett said it will provide no incentive for the state to dualize Route 9 south of Lakewood.

“The state hasn’t touched Route 9 since the Model A was a new car,” he said.

Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said the impact on people in the county will be great because they use the Parkway to avoid Route 9. At 41 miles, it’s the longest stretch of toll road in any county, he said.

“We’re about to finish Lacey Road,” Freeholder John P. Kelly said of the dualization of that county road from the Garden State Parkway to Route 9 in Forked River, Lacey.

“The state won’t fix the Route 9 intersection until 2010,” he complained. That bottleneck will slow traffic on the dualized highway, Kelly said.

Little said the state debt and budget deficit are “a bipartisan issue” with roots in the last three administrations in Trenton.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” he said. “The state is on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Little said the $33 billion state debt amounts to $45,000 for every New Jersey resident.

He said Corzine should use excess revenue to pay down the debt. “The state government should have spending caps like those they slapped on other levels of government,” he added.

Other suggestions for solving the state’s problems were in short supply.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” Lacey said.

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