Corzine gets his handpicked ethics advisory board to tell him it’s A-OK.

What was it Jon Corzine said when he was inaugurated?

Oh yes. That’s right.  “Hold me accountable.”

From our friends at

Well that was then and this is now.  And now Gov. Corzine, who has managed to punt on pushing a promised tougher round of ethics reforms in the state, has apparently found a new way around inconvenient truths.

He gets his handpicked ethics advisory board to tell him it’s A-OK.

The latest example of this was the somewhat confusing, connect-the-dots case involving Xanadu.

Yes, the proposed Meadowlands shopping center/entertainment complex, inexplicably named the same as  an Olivia Newton-John song, is raising eyebrows yet again.

This time, on Thursday, just after he helpfully signs a bill to help fund a $200 million aquarium at the site, he mentions that “one of my closest friends” is a partner in the investment consortium that underwrote Xanadu’s $1.5 billion bailout in 2006, according to The Record.

That friend is Daniel Neidich, a Democratic fundraiser and an ex-colleague of Corzine’s at Goldman Sachs.  Neidich also heads a nonprofit that the governor is a founding board member of – a nonprofit that incidentally was awarded a $2 million contract with the state, but that the company later withdrew not wanting to be a distraction.

Look out Mr. Neidich.  Here comes another one of those distractions.

Corzine never told anybody about the fact that his buddy Neidich – who he had to know was controversial after the blow-up involving the nonprofit Child Study Center – was the CEO of Dune Real Estate, a hedge fund which was one of the three investors that bailed out Xanadu.

No, he casually let that drop Thursday – AFTER he signed the bill that would allow an aquarium on the site. But no worries New Jersey – the Governor’s Ethics Advisory Panel told him it was OK.

This of course, was from the same panel that said Carla Katz’s e-mails to the governor during contract negotiations were just fine too, and did not need to be disclosed. The same e-mails that a Superior Court judge later found created a clear potential for a conflict of interest, when he ordered them to be released.

“I sought advice from the Governor’s Advisory Ethics Panel,” he wrote in an odd addendum at the end of a press release citing a list of bills he had signed. “The panel advised that, as there has been full disclosure, these circumstances do not create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
So, if we are to read this correctly, since Corzine disclosed it after the fact, it’s fine. No reason to make mention of it while the legislation was being considered, or to give time for any questions to arise.
“This bill required direct action by the governor. Xanadu’s previous business did not,” Robert Corrales, a Corzine spokesman, told The Record.
But here’s the thing. When you start drawing connect-the-dot charts, and the dots all connect, at the very least, you have an appearance of a conflict of interest. Especially when you realize that everything involving Xanadu has required direct action by the governor.  Like when he directly acted in 2006 by ordering his economic development czar, and Goldman Sachs buddy, Gary D. Rose, to work on a $1.5 billion bailout of Xanadu.  Or how he, as the Record notes, directly “boasted about his administration’s role in restructuring the Xanadu deal.”
So why oh why would he feel compelled to get an opinion now (which we should also mention was apparently just a verbal opinion, not a written one, so there is no record of what was asked of the panel, or what was disclosed).
It couldn’t have anything to do with the inconvenient truth that Rose, according to The Record,  owned stock and mutual funds in Goldman Sachs, or that the Wall Street company – an early investor in Xanadu, stood to lose some or all of the $1.1 billion it invested in the project, could it?
Or that Rose, as of March 2006, owned an interest in Dune Real Estate, according to The Record?
Deborah Howlett, Corzine’s communications director, dismissed such questions as “ridiculous.”

“If Gary Rose had stock in Pepsi would it mean we’d have to remove all the soda machines from the State House?” Howlett told The Record, later adding, “You wouldn’t even know about Gary Rose’s holdings if we didn’t disclose them.”

Well, yes, but isn’t that the point? The administration is supposed to lay all its cards out on the table, upfront, with full disclosure, and not dribble them out when it suits their time and choosing.  But that’s apparently Corzine’s way – it’s how he handled the disclosure of his financial relationship with ex-girlfriend, and former union leader, Carla Katz. It’s how he handled their e-mail controversy. It’s how he handled asset monetization. And it appears to be how he’s handling this.

But public confidence and trust in New Jersey officials is so shaky these days that full disclosure isn’t something that can be doled out piecemeal. Especially when it involves friends making money.

When you wait to make the disclosure after the fact, it only raises suspicions in people’s minds that there’s something in the Meadowlands projects that stinks.

And we’re not talking about the landfill.


HOLY COW – PIGS REALLY DID FLY! Corzine’s Fiscal Restructuring Agenda: Shift From Near Dead “Toll Hike”, To Budget Reduction

The governor conceded Thursday that his toll road plan has little support and that he may have to settle

According to three lawmakers, Tuesday’s Budget presentation is going to call for a $250 million budget reduction in likely response to the Governor’s “almost dead” toll hike scheme (Trenton finally heard our LOUD VOICES!!!)


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.

Jersey Towns Could Be Ready to Speak Out Against the Corzine Toll Hike Plan

Millennium Radio 

As Governor Corzine presses ahead with his proposal to increase tolls 800 percent, he may soon be faced with an unexpected problem.

Last week Toms River passed a resolution strongly opposing the plan, and other towns all over Jersey could soon follow suit.

Bill Dressel, the Executive Director of the Jersey League of Municipalities, says his group does want to work with the Governor to improve the State’s fiscal situation, “but we’re not prepared at this point to sign off on this proposal – because I think this proposal is in a state of flux – I think it’s going to have to be changed…it’s difficult for us to be able to come up with a conclusion that this specific proposal is the right proposal at this point.”

He says he’s heard concerns from Mayors and other local leaders that raising tolls 800 percent would be unfairly burdensome for certain communities, and there are also fears about more trucks diverting off the Turnpike onto local roads – so “there may be a combination of revenue raisers that might have to be considered – but first and foremost, before we get into that discussion, we’ve got to see what the budget is going to bring on the 26th.”

The Governor has indicated he will present his proposed budget at the end of this month, and he says it could include budget cuts that might be very unpopular in certain circles.

Corzine & Lautenberg’s Toll hike opposition: “This has electoral consequences”

…said Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University. “The strength of the relationship between Corzine and Lautenberg was important. Now there’s this kind of one-upmanship. It’s surely going to be escalating.”

Article in today’s Ledger:

Lautenberg facing fury of a governor scorned


U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s opposition to Gov. Jon Corzine’s highway toll plan has opened a rift between the two men that could affect the senator’s re-election bid.

The senator announced last week that he would not support Corzine’s call for higher tolls as part of a plan to restructure the state’s finances. The statement came after all three Republican candidates for Lautenberg’s seat came out against the toll plan.

Lautenberg’s announcement was a surprise and led one senior Corzine aide to tell top Democrats that the governor would retaliate by ceasing his fundraising efforts, and canceling a Manhattan fundraiser to be held next month at the home of a Corzine friend.

In an interview yesterday, Corzine declined to comment on the aide’s threat. Asked about Lautenberg’s opposition to the toll plan, the governor said: “I don’t agree with his judgment on this particular situation. We see it differently.”

The governor’s top political adviser, Tom Shea, said the governor “will continue to assist in (Lautenberg’s) fundraising efforts,” and added that the March fundraising gathering would still be held.

“But it is safe to say,” Shea said, “that it will be more difficult to raise money from the governor’s strongest supporters in light of (Lautenberg’s) statement on the governor’s plan.”

Lautenberg campaign manager Brendan Gill said the senator had no comment.

State Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney said Lautenberg’s announcement last week was not “helpful” to the governor, especially because the senator needs Corzine’s assistance in his campaign.

“It causes a problem if the governor doesn’t push people to help and donate,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said. “If his heart’s not in it, of course, it’s going to be a problem. Fundraising stinks to start with.”

Lautenberg, a four-term incumbent, is facing a potentially tough and expensive race this fall. Though no one in the GOP field is as well-known as Lautenberg, one of the Republicans, Anne Evans Estabrook, is a businesswoman whose personal wealth alone could make her a formidable challenger.


Corzine faces tough questions on toll hike plan in Mercer County

Gov. Jon Corzine faced a mixed reception during his town hall meeting today in Mercer County as skeptical residents tough questions about his plan to fix state finances by raising highway tolls.

The crowd of more than 500 at Hightstown High School pressed Corzine on whether he is cutting the budget enough and whether sharp toll increases on major highways would flood local roads with truck traffic.

But Corzine, who was visiting a county heavy with Democrats and state workers, also received several rounds of applause as he pleaded with the public to realize that the state faces such grave fiscal problems that drastic solutions are necessary.

“We have a serious financial issues in this state. Those are clear and present,” he said. “We must take action, some kind of action.”

Support for the plan has been eroding in the Legislature, and Corzine has encountered boisterous opposition during two recent town hall meetings in the Republican-leaning counties of Ocean and Monmouth.

Some of that dissent was evident at today’s meeting.

Ken Enderle, 55, a retired carpenter from Hamilton Township who tends to vote Republican, stood outside the high school before the 2 p.m. meeting holding a sign that read: “It’s the spending stupid.”

“The problem is the more taxes they get, the more they spend,” Enderle said. “Selling an asset doesn’t make sense. It’s like selling your house to pay for groceries.”

Enderly remained skeptical when told the governor planned to recommend a budget Feb. 26 that will cut more than $2 billion.

“Actions speak louder than words. We’ll see,” he said.

On Sunday, Corzine heads to East Brunswick High School in Middlesex County, a heavily Democratic area traversed by both the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. On Monday, he’ll be at Rowan University in Glassboro, Gloucester County. Sunday’s meeting runs from 2-4 p.m.; Monday’s will be held from 7-9 p.m.

The governor’s office asks that anyone wishing to speak at any of the meetings sign up through its Web site, or by calling the RSVP numbers listed on the site.

Corzine, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is holding the sessions to raise support for his plan, which would boost tolls up to eightfold within 14 years to allow a new quasi-public agency to borrow up to $38 million. The proceeds from the borrowing would be used to pay off at least half of the state’s $32 billion debt while pumping a large infusion into the ailing Transportation Trust Fund.

The Turnpike, Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway and Route 440 would be affected.

Corzine has released a proposed bill that would authorize the new borrowing and revamp oversight of the toll roads.

To measure the toll plan’s impact on your commute, see our toll calculator – covering every exit on the Turnpike and Parkway – at New Jersey by the Numbers.

More Star-Ledger coverage:

– Jerseyans rally against Corzine plan.

– Republicans, environmental groups oppose toll plan.

Turnpike data show flaws in toll plan

Governor recruits an old foe as fiscal plan pitchman

Questions and answers on how it all would work

Background information on asset monetization plan

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: