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

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I Didn’t Go To Middle Township High School To Get Arrested!

Comment from our friends at Liberty and Prosperity.org prompted my visit:

this post is re-printed from the L&P website

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

I DIDN’T GO TO MIDDLE TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL TO GET ARRESTED.

I didn’t go to Middle Township High School last Saturday to get arrested – or to get on TV. I didn’t even go to protest. Our Liberty and Prosperity group went there to participate in Governor Jon Corzine’s “town meeting”.
Corzine publicly invited every citizen to study his “debt restructuring plan” and to suggest other plans if we didn’t like his. That is what we tried to do.
We prepared and printed detailed “Fact Sheets” and small cardboard signs that said “No Toll Hikes-Repudiate Unconstitutional Debt”. We wanted people at the meeting to know that Governor Corzine was not telling the truth, or giving all the facts. We wanted people to be informed when they spoke to the Governor.
For example, Corzine talks of a “$2.5 billion “structural deficit”. But he never mentions that the last three governors-McGreevey, Codey, and Corzine hiked the state budget from $21 billion to $33 billion in just the last six years! That’s 9.5% per year-three times the rate of inflation. Corzine can fix the problem just by rolling back those increases to the inflation rate.
We said Corzine is lying when he says the state has $113 billion in “long term obligations which result in large budget requirements.” (That is roughly $30 billion in Wall Street bonds, $25 billion of unfunded pension obligations, and $58 billion for free medical insurance for all retired government employees with 25 years.)
But our “Fact Sheets” pointed out that NJ taxpayers only owe $3 billion. That is less than 3% of what Corzine claims. NJ’s Supreme Court ruled that NJ taxpayers are not legally obligated to pay any debts or liabilities not approved by voters pursuant to our State Constitution. Why pay a penny more than what we legally owe?
Roughly $27 billion of NJ’s bonds are “junk” issued by dummy
corporations like the Economic Development Authority (EDA). The fine print says they are NOT backed by the full faith and credit of state taxpayers. Wall Street was well aware of the risk.
Corzine said at the meeting that the New Jersey Supreme Court approved this debt, and that we need a Constitutional Amendment to stop this in the future. But when the police released me, and let me enter the meeting (without signs or literature), I repeatedly told the Governor that this is not true. The Supreme Court only ruled that the junk bonds did not
require voter approval, because state taxpayers could not be forced to pay them. (This was the case brought by Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.)
Corzine admits it was wrong to hike government pension benefits by 9% in 2001, with no money to pay for them. Corzine agrees it was a mistake to give free medical insurance for retired government employees with more than 25 years of employment-again with no money set aside to pay for them. But our Fact Sheet pointed out that because this also violates our State Constitution, we don’t have to pay for these “mistakes”. They can be set aside now. And we mentioned that last year, Corzine blocked bi-partisan legislation that would have done much more to deal with the situation.
Our group attempted to display our signs, and hand out our “Fact Sheets” on the sidewalk by the parking lot, far from the doors of the auditorium. But more than a dozen police officers were there to stop us. They said we could not display our signs any closer than a quarter mile away. We had to leave the area unless we got rid of our signs and literature. Everyone else got rid of the signs and literature. I did not, and I was arrested. Before I was handcuffed, I said these words to the officers:
U.S. CONSTITUTION: FIRST AMENDMENT: “Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech. . . or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.” (Later applied to states by the 14th Amendment of 1866.)
NJ CONSTITUTION: ARTICLE I, SECTION 18: ” The people have the right freely to assemble, consult for the common good, to make known their opinions to their representatives, and to petition for redress of grievance.”
Governor Jon Corzine later denied causing my arrest. We shall soon see.

Here is a diagram of where Seth Grossman and Steve Lonegan were arrested.

(Thank you, Al Garrett, Liberty & Proserity’s Vice President, for creating this diagram.)

For more information, visit
www.libertyandprosperity.org or contact Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman at seth@dandy.net or 609-927-7333. Seth Grossman hosts a two-way talk radio program on 1020AM Mondays-Fridays from 3PM to 5PM, and breakfast discussion groups every Tuesday at 8AM at Bayshores II Restaurant, 710 Bay Avenue in Somers Point. Dinner Meeting
Monday, January 14 at 7PM at Athena Diner Northfield.

Seth Grossman, Executive Director,
www.libertyandprosperity.org,
453 Shore Road, Somers Point, NJ 08244.
Tel. 609-927-7333.

Bogota ex-mayor arrested at toll protest

BY JOE DONOHUE

Star-Ledger StaffFormer Bogota Mayor Steven Lonegan was arrested yesterday during a small protest outside a school in Cape May County where Gov. Jon Corzine was pitching his plan to fix the state’s finances by increasing highway tolls.

Lonegan, an outspoken conservative best known for his unflinching stance against illegal immigration, was among some 10 toll opponents waving placards and distributing pamphlets outside Middle Township High School at 1:30 p.m. when they were confronted by local police.

Officers ordered the protesters to put down their signs, and Lonegan refused, saying he would have to be arrested first.

Police handcuffed him along with fellow protester Seth Grossman, a Somers Point lawyer and radio personality. They were charged with trespassing, said Middle Township Police Lt. Paul Fritsch.

“This was an all-out attack on freedom of speech,” said Lonegan, who in 2005 unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor.

Corzine said he said he did not order the arrest.

“I think protests and speaking your mind is what democracy is all about, and I support it,” he said.

Placards are typically banned from demonstrations in Middle Township, and school board members had asked police to approach the protesters yesterday, Fritsch said.

Longeman and Grossman were released within an hour of their arrest, police said. Grossman made it back to the high school in time to grill Corzine on the toll hike plan.

Staff writer Joe Ryan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

RSVP Corzine – Let him know you’re attending a Townhall meeting

TOWN HALL MEETINGS

Gov. Jon S. Corzine announced six more “town hall” meetings at which he will present his toll road plan and take questions from the public. The governor’s office asks people wishing to attend to RSVP by calling, e-mailing or filling out an online form at www.state.nj.us/townhallmeetings/listing.

The next six meetings are scheduled as follow:

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.