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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Corzine has friends in funny places

Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s asset monetization plan got an unlikely boost Wednesday when the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce announced it was endorsing the plan, in particular supporting the parts of the plan calling for governmental controls on future state spending.

That spending got the state into its current financial hole - with around $32 billion in debt and a dwindling Transportation Trust Fund - which the governor’s plan aims to fix through a scheme involving toll hikes on the state’s superhighway.

With toll increases of around 800 percent by 2020 or so, the increased revenue would be used to pay for a massive bond issue undertaken by an entity assuming management responsibilities for the roadways.

The bond issue would then go towards paying down half of the state’s total debt and reinvigorating the Transportation Trust Fund, while controls like freezing the current budget, limiting spending, and requiring voter approval of state borrowing without dedicated revenue sources would be put into place to prevent more uncontrolled debt.

“Already a strong plan with new thinking, the Chamber Board’s desire is for it to go even further to forcefully address systemic expenditure problems within our state’s fiscal structure that have plagued Administration after Administration,” said William J. Marino, chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Constitutionally curtailing state spending, expanding reform efforts within the state’s public benefits system, consolidating government departments, and embracing other expense reductions are all items we would like included in the final work product in order for this effort to be successful.”

Gov. Corzine associated the refunding of the state’s transportation coffers with the continued success of the state economy.

“As a corridor state, our transportation infrastructure is the linchpin of our economy. Without that, businesses big and small cannot begin to grow or thrive in our state,” said Gov. Corzine, in a statement. “If we don’t re-set New Jersey’s finances and improve our ailing infrastructure, our State’s economic future will be in jeopardy.”

Republicans responding to the announcement of the endorsement sounded disgusted, with many saying the Chamber of Commerce had sold out the state’s middle class and business community by advocating the plan.

“I am disappointed that the Chamber would endorse a $40 billion borrowing proposal without so much as a cursory glance at the yet to be released legislation or the concession agreement,” said Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. R-21, in a statement. “No business executive that I know would borrow $40, much less $40 billion based on a set of talking points.”

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