Gov. Corzine, not yet happy with his level of spending, seeks $2.5 billion more

Folks; this was a bad idea having Corzine as Governor… this better be his one and only term!

TRENTON — Before Gov. Jon S. Corzine gets approval for his plan to halve state debt by hiking tolls and borrowing more money, he plans to begin a separate push to borrow at least $2.5 billion to fund school construction projects in the state’s poorest districts.

That plan was revealed in a letter released Wednesday as the state Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers representing children in the so-called Abbott districts who want a court-ordered deadline for the governor to approve the $2.5 billion needed to restart dozens of projects that were delayed when it became apparent the construction fund was depleting.

“The bottom line for the children in this case, the plaintiffs, is not just the introduction of a bill. We’ve heard that before,” said David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, which brought the case. “… The bottom line is the actual provision of funds so that work can resume.”

Abbott advocates have been in court on this matter before. Last year, the state Supreme Court declined to impose a deadline because the state suggested the matter would be handled as part of the fiscal 2008 budget adopted last summer.

The Legislature passed a measures to reform the state Schools Construction Corp. and rename it the Schools Development Authority but allocated no funds.

“You said to us, “It’s going to be taken care of in the ’08 budget,”‘ Justice Virginia A. Long told the assistant attorney general representing the state. “… So again you certainly have to acknowledge there’s reason for them to be leery.”

Now, the state points out that Corzine has announced his financial restructuring plan, which calls for halving the state’s debt and funding 75 years of transportation projects by borrowing up to $38 billion to be repaid through large toll hikes.

With the plan targeted for approval this spring, Corzine plans to begin pushing a separate piece of legislation to borrow the $2.5 billion seen as a stop-gap for two more years worth of school construction projects.

The administration expects legislation to be introduced in February and signed by Corzine before the July 1 budget deadline but cannot vouch for the Legislature.

“That is what the administration can do,” assistant attorney general Robert Gilson said. “They are one branch of government. They have spoken as to what they will address in terms of their obligations.”

Gilson wrote to the court in a letter dated Tuesday that Corzine’s plan to borrow the $2.5 billion will strive to be repaid through existing taxes, meaning it wouldn’t have to be put before the voters, something Abbott advocates have feared after Corzine proposed requiring voter approval for borrowing without a dedicated funding source.

“Not that it gets around it,” said Scott Weiner, chief executive officer of the schools authority, “it’s consistent with his plan that voter approval is required in absence of an identified, dedicated source of funding.”

Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said via e-mail that funding will likely come from the income tax — a move Republicans are already questioning since that tax is dedicated to property tax relief.

Senators from both parties questioned more borrowing when the governor is pushing a controversial plan to cut state debt.

“We are in the trouble we are in now in New Jersey because we have borrowed and borrowed and borrowed without asking the people themselves for approval to borrow,” Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, said. “Almost 90 percent of our debt is based upon this type of borrowing.”

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, also questioned the move.

“It sends a mixed message to the public,” said Sweeney. “It just sends the wrong message right now.”

Corzine chief of staff Bradley Abelow said it was an unusual situation.

“We’re responding to a court mandate where we must provide funding to construct facilities in a certain number of school districts,” Abelow said. “And that funding has run out.”

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