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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Republican bid for toll hike report's release fails

Republican leaders in the General Assembly are concerned over what they see as a dangerous precedent set last week, when Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ruled that the Corzine administration did not have to make public the findings of an $800,000 outside analysis of the governor's plan to use the state's major highways and their toll revenue as a method for fighting New Jersey's $32 billion debt.

"While I am not surprised by today's ruling, I am nonetheless disappointed," said Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris and Passaic. "The governor and his administration may be celebrating a victory, but clearly there are no winners here. Anytime the courts rule against the best interests of taxpayers, everyone loses."

The Republican response came after an Open Public Records Act request filed by two Assembly members failed, which was then followed with a lawsuit filed by the same group. The court action also has failed, following the ruling by Judge Feinberg.

The goal of the Republicans: full public release of a study done by English firm Steer Davies, and Gleave, Ltd., that looked at the possible impact of the governor's plan.

The report would have possibly revealed the extent of toll increases on the highways, which the so-called asset monetization plan would use to pay off a massive $15 billion bond issue that would have been used to cut the state's debt in half.

The day after the ruling, Nov. 27, Democratic Assembly leaders openly speculated that it "was reasonable to say" tolls would rise by more than 50 percent, and a Corzine spokeswoman said that the administration has seen a wide range of increases, and a 75 percent increase was "not outrageous."

The full scope of the plan should be released sometime in the first half of 2008, according to Gov. Corzine, who also plans on unveiling what promises to be a controversial school funding formula, which the state has not had for five years.

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