Corzine’s Public Benefit Corp all but dead thanks to “A Different Road”

Corzine says the state is nearly broke: Wisniewski challenges that statement head-on:

“New Jersey maintains an “AA-‘ bond rating on Wall Street. “Goldman Sachs, who everybody would acknowledge is a world-class financial operation on Wall Street, shares exactly the same financial rating as the State of New Jersey,” Wisniewski said. Corzine used to run Goldman Sachs.

Corzine’s Public Benefit Corp is likely all but dead thanks to Assembly Transportation Committee chairman John Wisniewski’s recommended plan.

Although the 18 cents gas tax hike may not be the ultimate answer, it does have a much more reasonable moderate Toll increase schedule and he does have the Trenton Legislators buzzing about it. The problem as I see it however, is that IT DOES NOT ADDRESS THE ROOT CAUSE. In other words, there’s nothing in the plan that calls for CUTTING spending (only freezing). Some Republican legislators, (preferably a newly elected official(s) like Scanlon/Casagrande/Beck?) need to submit another alternative that may incorporate “a modest” gas tax with across the board cuts.

Wisniewski’s plan would not cut state debt, which is a key element of Corzine’s proposal to raise tolls by roughly 800 percent by 2022 and by inflation from then on. Corzine has said reducing debt could save the state $1 billion a year in interest payments over the next decade.

But Wisniewski said his plan would more fairly spread the costs among all motorists.

“An 800-percent toll increase was going to fund transportation. I find that unacceptable,” Wisniewski said.

He said Corzine’s proposal would unfairly hit seven counties, including Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean, that rely on the state’s toll roads while asking much less of the rest of the state. Wisniewski’s alternative would roughly double tolls by 2018 and would direct the money raised back to projects on the toll roads.

Corzine’s proposal would halve the state’s $32 billion debt, at least temporarily, and fund up to 75 years of transportation projects.

Under Wisniewski’s plan:

  • The gasoline tax would grow by 18 cents, with inflationary increases following to fund transportation projects.
  • On the Parkway, tolls would grow from 35 cents now to 75 cents in 2018. Corzine’s plan would raise the same toll, in four installments, to $2.70 by 2022.
  • The Turnpike would see three 25-percent toll hikes in place of Corzine’s four increases of 50 percent plus inflation. That means today’s $1.20 average trip would cost $2.35 in 2018 under the Wisniewski proposal, compared with the $9.85 by 2022 called for by Corzine.
  • A 50-cent Expressway toll would become $1 by 2014, compared with $4.05 by 2022 under Corzine’s plan.

Wisniewski also endorsed the same spending controls as Corzine, and even tighter restrictions on new borrowing.

“The governor is pleased that an active dialogue has emerged on how to put New Jersey on the path to fiscal responsibility while also recognizing the need to fund critical, long-term infrastructure improvements,” Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said.

Other lawmakers react

A Democrat whose support is key to Corzine’s plan, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, applauded Wisniewski’s approach. Lesniak, who is sponsoring the Corzine proposal, said it will be much easier to convince toll-road drivers to support fee increases if they see the funding coming back to the highways they use.

“The governor trying to do everything all at once in one big bundle; that’s too complex to do it all in one way,” Lesniak said.

(That’s Trenton talk for: I’m not supporting Gov. Corzine’s plan any longer)

He said that once the state finds a source of transportation funding, a separate debate can begin on reducing debt.

But Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said talk of a gas-tax hike is premature.

“Right now, there’s no reason to talk about a gas tax, there’s no reason to talk about toll increases until (Corzine) presents his budget,” Sweeney said.

Corzine is scheduled to lay out his plan Tuesday, and Sweeney, like other lawmakers, has called for reduced spending to alleviate the state’s financial problems.

Wisniewski disputed Corzine’s assertions that the state is nearly broke.

“Bankrupt really means that you’re insolvent, that you can’t pay your bills. That’s not a situation where New Jersey is at. We can pay our bills,” Wisniewski said.

He said New Jersey maintains an “AA-‘ bond rating on Wall Street, similar to most other states.

“Goldman Sachs, who everybody would acknowledge is a world-class financial operation on Wall Street, shares exactly the same financial rating as the State of New Jersey,” Wisniewski said. Corzine used to run Goldman Sachs.

New Jersey’s debt costs the state $2.6 billion in payments each year, and growing pension and health care liabilities cost another $2.2 billion a year, according to the administration. Corzine has said those payments severely restrict the state’s ability to pay for needed programs and repairs.

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DeCroce backs off Roe tribute

He’ll apologize for vote to name road for ex-lawmaker with DWI record

(and I still can’t believe – wait: actually I CAN believe our good for nothing Governor would sign this into law… I guess it’s true – he really doesn’t read anything…)

A state lawmaker from Morris County who voted for naming Route 23 for former Rep. Robert A. Roe — who seriously injured two people in a 1993 drunken driving accident in Rockaway Township — said Tuesday the honor should be revoked.Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, R-Parsippany, — a co-sponsor of the Roe highway bill signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in January — said he would ask the leading Democratic sponsor to “consider rescinding the name of the highway.”

“If he does that, I’m willing to go on board,” DeCroce said.

Apology coming

DeCroce added that he planned to write “a letter of apology” to the family of John and Julia Worosila. Their then-15-year-old daughter, Jodi, suffered numerous fractures in the accident on Green Pond Road and her spleen had to be removed. Julia Worosila broke her pelvis in two places while her husband was unhurt.

John Worosila, who lives in Hillsborough, said he was pleased by the latest development.

“If they knock that down, I think that’s fantastic,” Worosila said.

Roe pleaded guilty to drunken and reckless driving, lost his license for six months and paid $426 in fines. He avoided a more serious charge, assault by auto, after being admitted to a pretrial intervention program.

Roe, now 83, did not return a phone call Tuesday and has not commented publicly since the issue was first raised last week.

DeCroce said he spoke by phone Tuesday morning with the former 23-year Democratic congressman and told him he was withdrawing his support. Roe, according to DeCroce, indicated “that whatever had to happen, he would understand.”

Criticism of the Roe honor was growing Tuesday, a day after the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving urged Corzine to block it.

Frelinghuysen’s view

“It is hard to believe that such a proposal was not vetted by the governor’s counsel or those that advise the Legislature,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Harding.

“Bob Roe is a tremendous public servant, and I understand and support people’s desire to honor that service but this particular proposal is not appropriate and should be repealed. Frankly, I agree with MADD,” Frelinghuysen said.

It was unclear how many officials had been aware of the 1993 accident before the Worosila family publicly raised an objection last week. The Assembly and Senate passed bills in support of the highway designation last year.

Corzine’s spokesman, Jim Gardner, said Monday that the governor had not known about Roe’s DWI accident (Can anyone say GOOGLE?). Gardner added that any effort to overturn the highway honor would have to be initiated by the Democratic-controlled state legislature (in other words – pass the buck).

Assembly Deputy Minority Leader Thomas P. Giblin, D-Clifton, listed as the Roe bill’s top sponsor, did not return a phone call Monday and state offices were closed Tuesday.

Another sponsor — Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex — said Monday he had been unaware of Roe’s driving history before voting (just GOOGLE) however DeCroce knew and still went along with it.

DeCroce knew

DeCroce acknowledged last Friday that he had been aware of the 1993 incident but decided that Roe, who chaired the powerful House Public Works and Transportation Committee, deserved the honor because of his lengthy public service.

While the legislation approved by the Assembly and Senate last year included $2,500 for new signs, the signs have not yet been installed and there is no timeframe for putting them up.

AAA in New Jersey spokeswoman Michele Mount said officials should “rethink” the honor for Roe.

“This didn’t happen 30 years ago. In the 1980s, our views on impaired driving changed,” Mount said.

Roe’s congressional district included Riverdale in Morris County and parts of Passaic, Essex and Bergen counties.

Corzine Is Ready to Deal to Get the Toll Plan He Wants

CAPE MAY, N.J. — Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who sometimes describes himself as a washed-up bond trader, is still trading.

Now that he has begun his travels around the state to sell wary residents on his multibillion-dollar plan to bail New Jersey out of its fiscal mess by sharply raising highway tolls, Mr. Corzine is engaging in a familiar game of give-and-take.

One day he suggests that he might abandon his plan to turn a portion of Route 440 between Woodbridge and Staten Island into a toll road, pleasing countless commuters and a couple of crucial allies in the State Senate. (We know one of the the ultimate goal anyway – gain support by John Wisniewski.

See Mr. Wisniewski was opposed, publicly, to the whole toll hike plan from the get-go – however: I’ll guarantee that Jon Corzine and John Wisniewski will hold hands soon. I bet that behind closed doors, Corzine made a deal from day One- He’ll lay out a plan to put a toll on 440, and after a few weeks, let Wisniewski save face by insisting that he fought hard against the plan, and since he won that fight with the Governor, is now is in full support of the plan because “it’ll be best for the state of NJ”)

Let’s see if my gut feeling pans out.

Then next he warns legislators and mayors that if they reject his plan, the state will be in no fiscal condition to provide property tax relief or finance important transportation projects.

And he is far from finished.

At all four town hall meetings so far — including the one here in Cape May Court House on Saturday — and in frequent briefings with reporters since unveiling his proposal two weeks ago, Mr. Corzine has emphasized words like “negotiate” and “flexibility.”

“I have made expressions of flexibility,” Mr. Corzine told reporters in Trenton on Friday. “We will adjust the plan to meet some of these challenges that are legitimate concerns, and we’ll have to work to see how much adjusting the plan actually ends up undermining its capacity to meet the dual objectives of paying down 50 percent of the state’s debt and financing our state’s transportation projects for a generation.”

Not willing to give up the spotlight, or the credit, the Senate Budget Committee plans to hold a hearing Wednesday to press the administration for more details. Senator Barbara Buono, a Democrat from Middlesex County who is the committee chairwoman, has come out against the Route 440 proposal, which would affect her constituents.

No one expected that Mr. Corzine would have an easy time convincing a skittish Legislature and a public pummeled by falling housing prices and rising gas prices and worried about a looming recession that the best remedy to ease the state’s $32 billion debt and to repair its aging transportation network would be drastic toll increases on the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Atlantic City Expressway.

But since announcing his plan, Mr. Corzine has suggested an array of compromises, essentially guaranteeing that the final proposal will be noticeably different from the initial one.

The crucial question is how much he is willing to bend to accommodate taxpayers and lawmakers without scaring off the traders who will be asked to sell as much as $40 billion in bonds.

Two legislators are already drafting bills that would provide tax credits to people hit hardest by the toll increases, which would begin in 2010 with a 50 percent increase every four years through 2022, and then be indexed for inflation until 2085.

All of this horse trading, some say, is probably Mr. Corzine’s strategy of asking for too much so that he will end up with just enough. Indeed, finance professionals assume that Mr. Corzine has crunched the numbers, and crunched them again, to come up with a spreadsheet for all seasons.

“He probably thinks he’s only going to get one swing at this,” said Robert L. Vitale, a partner with the law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker who works on infrastructure deals. “But everyone is going to assume he has another number because you always have to have another number.”

Mr. Corzine has also signaled a willingness to give discounts to frequent toll road users. And during a meeting with reporters and members of the editorial board of The New York Times, he suggested that he might give discounts to people who drive hybrids or other vehicles that get more than perhaps 30 miles per gallon.

“Might very well do that,” he said.

Timing may be another reason Mr. Corzine is willing to compromise. He says he wants the Legislature to act by March so that he can factor the figures into next year’s budget, which must be approved by July 1 and is projected to have a $3 billion deficit.

Still, Mr. Corzine’s seeming flexibility on some issues is being matched by his willingness to play hardball on others.

Read the rest HERE