Demonstrators condemn toll-hike proposal at protest organized by talk-radio station

TRENTON — Pigs flew over the Statehouse Friday.

Rubber-balloon pigs, that is. They were pink and wore smiles.

More than 700 chanting, placard-waving demonstrators — taking their cue from a line in Gov. Corzine’s State of the State speech — rallied in front of the Statehouse to protest Corzine’s 75- or 99-year plan to increase road tolls to halve the state debt and bankroll transportation projects.

At one point, Katherine Koridek — age 11 — of Sterling was picked up over the podium, where the crowd roared that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren could be paying for Corzine’s plan.

The governor had said “pigs will fly over the Statehouse” before spending cuts and tax increases rescue the state’s financial situation.

Well, they did take flight as scores of pink “pig” balloons rose into the cloud-pocked sky above cheers of “We’re not going to take it!” and the pulsing rock music provided by New Jersey 101.5 FM radio, which organized the rally under the banner of the Flying Pigs Coalition.

Some protesters chanted. Some waved signs. Some oinked. Many took cell-phone photos. Some even danced as the music — including Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” — poured onto West State Street from elevated speakers.

While TV helicopters hovered overhead, some of the balloon pigs drifted toward the Delaware River. Others got caught in trees, moving Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, to ask if the gimmick was harmful to the environment.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr., R-Union, said the Corzine toll plan looks doomed but is not yet dead.

“They are just spending addicts, and they are looking for another fix,” said demonstrator Bruce Christiansen of Springfield in Burlington County.

Wall resident Dominick Ignoscia said, “The so-called silent majority has not become so silent any more. People are just fed up. Enough is enough.”

He added later that he believed voters will deny Corzine a second term, should he run.

Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said the governor was not in the Statehouse at the time of the rally.

“Gov. Corzine today sat down with his Cabinet to discuss responsible, albeit painful, cuts that will reduce spending by up to $2.5 billion in the upcoming state budget. The governor is committed to continuing to travel the state to present his proposal and listen to the people,” Gardner said.

State Police Capt. Al Della Fave said between 700 and 800 people turned out or passed by on the sidewalk.

One sign said, “Duh — Cut Spending, Governor Financial Genius.” Others proclaimed “Oink” or “No New Tolls.”

Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, said raising tolls on the Garden State Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway and the New Jersey Turnpike and putting them on Route 440 in Middlesex County is just a start and that Corzine will later try to slap tolls on some of the now-free interstates.

“He’ll do it on 80, on 78, on 287. Mark my words,” Merkt said. “His proposals would literally steal from future generations.” He noted that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is seeking to put tolls on the Keystone State’s stretch of I-80.

“I stand with you, the majority of the people of New Jersey,” Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow, R-Hunterdon, shouted to the throng.

“No new taxes,” shouted Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset, labeling the tolls as taxes.

Corzine is trying to convince voters he should create a new state agency to oversee the toll roads, issuing bonds to create $38 billion to cut the state debt by 50 percent and also to pay for transportation work for 75 years.

To repay the bonds, Corzine says New Jersey can raise tolls 50 percent in the years 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. Those boosts also would include inflation adjustments. Then, after 2022, tolls would go up every four years until 2085, reflecting inflation.

While some in the crowd dressed as pigs, Charles Applegate of Browns Mills mounted his motorcycle with a pig attached to the top of his helmet. It had wings that flapped up and down, by battery power, as he rode down West State Street.

Tom Baldwin: tbaldwi@gannett.com

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