No Lack of Curiosity, or Civility, at Corzine’s First Forum on Toll Proposal

From Today’s NY Times (text highlights are my own)

John T. McGinnity of Springfield, N.J., was one of more than 900 people to attend Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s town hall meeting.

LIVINGSTON, N.J. — One person blurted out that Gov. Jon S. Corzine should raise the gas tax. Another yelled that New Jersey’s biggest yoke was its overabundance of elected officials.

But surprisingly, those were the exceptions rather than the rule on Saturday, when Mr. Corzine convened his first town hall meeting on his plan to drastically increase tolls in order to pay off billions of dollars in debt and maintain the state’s bridges and highways.

More than 900 people showed up (rumors buzzing that 50 of these were union employees bused in by the administration) for the meeting at Livingston High School, prompting organizers to use another room for overflow. And while many people expressed qualms, the atmosphere was generally deferential throughout the two-hour meeting.

“I’m surprised there was less anger,” said David Shulman, a semi-retired economist from Berkeley Heights who believes that the plan asks too much of toll-road drivers. “People were more polite and tame. But he did a good job, and there’s no question he’s a professional.”

If Mr. Corzine could bottle the reaction in Livingston and replicate it 20 times over the next two months, then he would have reason to feel cautiously upbeat that residents will at least listen seriously to his ideas, and perhaps even support them.

Then again, Mr. Corzine was not exactly in hostile territory, since Livingston, which leans Democratic, is an affluent and educated community in Essex County. Perhaps more interesting, based on the hometowns of those who managed to ask questions, and the observations of longtime residents, was that most people were from out of town, coming from places like Sparta, in the northwest corner of the state, and Freehold, in its midsection.

One-third of the 21 people who asked questions, in fact, used the occasion to ask Mr. Corzine about subjects other than the toll roads, with the new school financing formula being the most common.

Mr. Corzine began the meeting with a 46-minute PowerPoint presentation, detailing the state’s financial problems and offering unpalatable options to fix those problems, like increasing the income tax by 20 percent or the sales tax by 30 percent.

A third idea, to increase the gas tax 45 to 50 cents a gallon, prompted one person to say, “That you should do!”

That brought Mr. Corzine to the fourth option — his plan. Tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway would be increased by a maximum of 50 percent four times in 12 years — in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022 — and also would be adjusted for inflation. A portion of a fourth highway, Route 440, would become a toll road. Toll increases would continue to be indexed for inflation until 2085.

A nonprofit corporation set up by the state to replace the New Jersey Turnpike Authority would issue bonds secured by future toll revenues that would generate up to $38 billion. Those billions, in turn, would halve the state’s debt of $32 billion and inject money into the Transportation Trust Fund, which is nearly depleted, for road and bridge repairs and other projects.

Mr. Corzine noted that there would be discounts to frequent users of the toll roads, and that more than half of the New Jersey Turnpike’s revenues came from out-of-state drivers. But he acknowledged that truckers and other commercial users of the toll roads would probably eventually pass along some of the added costs to consumers.

“Everyone is going to end up paying some of the toll hikes,” he said.

Some people asked Mr. Corzine whether he would consider scaling back his plan, and mixing in modest tax increases. But Mr. Corzine — who pushed through a penny increase in the sales tax in 2006 to plug a budget deficit — said that few legislators would have the stomach for more.

After the meeting, Peter Humphreys, a securities lawyer who is the founder of a new citizens’ watchdog group, Save Our Assets NJ, said that he felt that Mr. Corzine was “trying to scare people a little bit,” and that questions on the fine print of the proposal remained unanswered.

“I thought he did very well, but I don’t think he’s answered the concerns we have,” said Mr. Humphreys, who lives in nearby Millburn.

Advertisements

New Jersey, Jan 19th: GOP Presidential Candidates Roundtable & Straw Poll

NJ: It’s time to show our support. Lets prove to the GOP, FOXNEWS, TALKRADIO and all our local news stations and papers:

Giuliani IS NOT number one in NJ!

Conservatives With Attitude

Presents

Conservative Leadership Brunch

2008 GOP Presidential Candidates

Roundtable & Straw Poll

Saturday January 19th 2008 @ 10:30am

Hampton Inn, Rt. 9 North Woodbridge, New Jersey

All 5 GOP Presidential campaigns have confirmed.

Speaking on behalf of the 2008 Presidential Candidates:
Assemblyman-elect Jay Webber will be representing Governor Mitt Romney
Bill Spadea will be representing Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Dr. Murray Sabrin will be representing Congressman Ron Paul
Peter Kane will be representing Governor Mike Huckabee
Assemblyman Guy Gregg will be representing Fred Thompson

Event Flier info and Registration
CLICK HERE to register on Line

Sunday’s NY Times Metro section…

Welcome. I encourage you to take a few minutes here after reading the article to review my posts and learn about our issues and candidates. Next November we face a critical decision on who will be our Commander in Chief – PLEASE – take inventory on the issues most important to you. I did, and Mike is my man – and is likely to win you over as well. You too just might become a supporter, and if I get to help your decision, well please let me know!

Our Towns

In an Unlikely Part of the Country, a Tiny Huckabee Movement Is Born

Laura Pedrick for The New York Times
Bill Garcia, blogging for Mike Huckabee from his home in Manalapan, N.J.

This is how Bill Garcia became what he calls a Huckabeezer.

Mr. Garcia, who is 42 and works for a major Banking institution in Manhattan, moved from Queens to Manalapan, N.J., in July. He looked around for a church to join with his wife of 19 years and his three children. He settled on West Monmouth Baptist in Freehold. There he picked up a copy of New Man Magazine, a Christian men’s magazine. On the cover was a story about a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor he had never heard of who was running for president. Mr. Garcia liked his views on faith and family values and was impressed that he seemed to have a real record on education and other issues.

He went to the Mike Huckabee for President Web site and learned more, and soon he learned how to put up his own pro-Huckabee blog, called Bill’s Weblog, at njchristiansforhuckabee.wordpress.com. He stuck a Huckabee bumper sticker to the top of his computer monitor at work and voilà, as this year’s improbable political free-for-alls began to play out, for the first time in his life he felt like a player in the game.

“I liked that he had religious values that matched mine, but also that he had a record of doing something about them,” Mr. Garcia said. “I feel we live in a society where we need to step back and maybe go back in time, and when I started telling people about him, it was like converting someone or sharing the Gospel with them. The way this thing has snowballed is pretty cool.”

It’s probably safe to guess that the New York region is not overrun with triumphant Huckabee supporters, delirious over their man’s rise from the back of the pack to the king (Republican version) of Iowa. But in the eHarmony way that matches get made these days, Mr. Garcia is not alone either.

SO along with those scratching their heads over the Republican results or too engrossed in the Obama-Hillary Battle of the Blue State Titans to care, there is, even here, a small core of the Huckabee faithful, feeling as if they stuck their hand in the Cracker Jack box and pulled out a diamond.

“I just wanted to support someone I could feel proud about supporting,” said David Friedrich, a first-grade teacher in Hopewell Township, N.J. “To say that seeing him do so well is thrilling would be an understatement.”

True, even the relatively few people who make their way to Mr. Garcia’s blog, which has had more than 5,000 hits, aren’t all converts. “This is just a warning from a fellow Christian; Huckabee is that glass-jaw candidate that Democrats have been looking for,” said one of the dozen or so posters on the site.

“Does it bother anyone but me that Mr. Huckabee has been caught in so many lies?” asked another, who added: “It takes more than just saying ‘Jesus’ for my vote. It should for Christians, too. Or do you just blank out anything but the abortion issue?”

But for long-suffering Christian conservatives in the Northeast, who often see themselves as a righteous remnant in a realm dominated by Liberal Mammon, Mr. Huckabee has already attracted a small but committed core with an appeal rooted in religion and conservative values. (“Fighting for Faith, Families and Freedom,” says the home page of the New York Christian Coalition. “Faith. Family. Freedom,” says the Huckabee for President home page.)

The most optimistic also see something more: the vision of “compassionate conservatism” that they feel George W. Bush promised and never delivered, a blend of conservative values and pragmatic politics that transcends the Christian conservative label.

“He has a genuineness and sincerity that really resonates and that we haven’t seen in quite a while,” said Peter Kane, a veteran Republican who is his volunteer New Jersey field coordinator — though it would be a stretch to call Mr. Huckabee’s organization skeletal in any state in the region. “I mean, here’s a guy who talks about increasing funding for music and art education in the schools. When was the last time any politician, let alone a Republican one, talked about increasing funding on music and art in the schools and actually put his money down to do it?”

OF course, some will say it’s more important for a potential president to be knowledgeable about Pakistan and Iraq than about music and art, but at week’s end the scattered Huckabeezers of Greater New York were abuzz, hopeful if not of victories in the states where they live, at least about results from more distant locales.

So the Rev. Al Stewart, pastor of the Franklin Congregational Church in Franklin, Conn., was ready to venture to New Hampshire on Monday to support his man there. “I haven’t been involved in the political process per se for 10 years, and this guy brought me back,” Mr. Stewart said. “He did for me what Obama did for many Democrats, and I see that as a good thing.”

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com