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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Gov’s approval rating slips to 40%, poll finds

My Jersian neighbors: Please – Let our Legislators know how unhappy YOU are with the Governor’s toll plan NOW – before they cast their vote on it – heaven knows they never read anything… They must be put on alert that this just may be their last term if they don’t wake up and realize they represent you and I. 

   All the information you need is on the right. Click the Legislators tab and search for your district, click the contact and send an email. It’s that easy.

New school aid formula earns so-so reception

Gov. Corzine is receiving poor marks from New Jerseyans, a plurality of whom don’t particularly like the governor’s policies or his style of governing, according to a new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll.

Midway through his four-year term, 40 percent of the statewide poll respondents said they approved of Corzine’s job performance, while 44 percent disapproved, the highest negative rating found by the poll since Corzine took office in January 2006.

Those polled gave Corzine an overall C-minus grade on issues ranging from cost-cutting, property taxes, government ethics, cost of living, schools and Corzine’s level of effort.

Corzine’s highest approval rating of 51 percent came in April 2007, shortly after he was critically injured in a car accident.

On the most substantial Corzine policy initiative adopted to date — a revamping of the formula allocating public schools’ state aid — 45 percent thought it was a bad idea, while 37 percent approved.

That plan, signed into law by Corzine on Jan. 13, will reduce the growth of state aid to the 30 urban school districts that take half of the yearly $7.8 billion in aid. The remaining aid will be reallocated to other districts based on student enrollment and demographics. In the works for two years, the plan was first unveiled by Corzine in December and was designed to provide more aid to suburban districts.

The plan sped through the lame duck Legislature, and 51 percent of respondents said they hadn’t heard of the plan, according to the poll. Among those who are registered voters, 47 percent were unaware of the plan.

Ironically for Corzine, the more the public knew about the plan, the more they liked it. Respondents who knew of the plan were split in their opinion — 45 percent approved, 44 percent disapproved.

Among people who had been unaware of the plan, only 33 percent liked it while 48 percent disliked it.

Distrust discerned

The results show that the public is distrustful of both Corzine and state government as a whole, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“The way things have gone in the governor’s first term have not led to a groundswell of public trust in the way government works here in New Jersey,” he said. “More than just the school-funding formula needs to be handled differently — there needs to be a showing that a fine-toothed comb is being run through the budget. He hasn’t laid the groundwork to show that he has the taxpayers’ best interests in mind.”

Jim Gardner, a spokesman for Corzine, said his office could not respond to the poll without having an opportunity to review the data.

Peter Harrison, 60, of Beachwood, who runs an auctioneering company with his wife, said Corzine is governing like the multimillionaire that he is — with little regard for the public.

Harrison said he particularly disliked the way the school-funding bill was quickly adopted.

“Who had a chance to study it in the three weeks before it was put through and voted on and signed by the governor?” Harrison asked. “I think he’s doing a terrible job. Everything’s wrong.”

But social work student Heather Harris, 31, of Highlands said she is willing to give the governor credit for his effort so far.

“I think he has a very difficult job,” she said. “He’s trying to do the best that he can.”

The telephone poll of 804 New Jersey adults was conducted from Jan. 9-13. The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Gannett New Jersey newspapers are the Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, published in Cherry Hill; Courier News of Bridgewater, Home News Tribune of East Brunswick, Daily Record of Morristown and Daily Journal of Vineland.

James W. Prado Roberts: (732) 643-4223; or jwr@app.com