I told you YOUR VOICE COUNTS, NJ Community; The Tide is turning against toll hike plan

Entire legislative GOP, Adler, Lautenberg announce opposition

BY DUNSTAN McNICHOL AND TOM FEENEY Star-Ledger Staff

Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to cut state debt and fund transportation projects by sharply hiking tolls ran into deep political trouble yesterday, with every Republican in the Legislature and a key Democratic senator vowing to oppose it.

The flurry of announcements from legislative leaders came hours before the Democratic governor made his latest pitch directly to the people at a town hall meeting in Atlantic County, where a crowd of more than 750 gave him a mixed reception. It was the 10th such forum hosted by Corzine, who plans to visit all 21 counties.

Yesterday’s developments leave Corzine with little margin for error if he is to win approval of the toll- hike plan, which he calls critical to righting the state’s shaky finances.

He needs 21 votes to secure passage in the 40-member Senate. Without any GOP support — and with the opposition of Sen. John Adler (D-Camden) — the governor has no more than 22 votes, and even they are not assured.

Last night, Senate Democratic leaders conceded that the Corzine plan, as presented, will not have enough votes to pass.

That does not mean, however, the proposal is dead, Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) said. Codey said he is confident the governor and lawmakers will reach a compromise that can win approval in the Senate.

“I would say that the issue of the toll hikes is far from decided,” Codey said. “We’re going to do fis cal restructuring, certainly, in some manner, and I expect a large por tion of the governor’s program to be enacted.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said there is a “willingness” among skeptical Democratic senators to negotiate with Corzine.

“He has to present something that’s somewhat of a change from where it is,” Sweeney said. “But I think that’s the process. I think he’s willing to make changes.”

Corzine has more breathing room in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a 48-32 edge.

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