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Friday, January 18, 2008

Pols: more open information regarding toll plan

Controversy surrounding Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposed asset monetization plan continued to deepen this week, with legislators from both sides of aisle proposing revisions and questioning both the plan itself and the manner in which the Corzine administration has both analyzed the plan and pushed for it in the public realm.

Under Gov. Corzine's plan, toll hikes on the state's superhighways would be used to pay off the bond debt of a large public agency that would manage the roadways, with issued bond funds going towards paying off half of the state's $32 billion debt and reinvigorating the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund.

Republicans like Senate Republican Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr. and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce today called for the governor to release outside opinions the administration sought on the plan, which looked at the possible tax-exempt status of bonds issued by the proposed highway agency.

“If he is exercising the necessary caution in proceeding with this plan, Governor Corzine must have sought legal advice on the key question of whether bonds issued by this newly created Public Benefit Corporation would be tax exempt,” said Mr. Kean, R-Union, Morris, Somerset and Essex, in a statement. “The success or failure of this toll hike proposal could hinge on that question and the Legislature should be provided with that legal opinion now so that we can analyze the issues it raises.”

Mr. DeCroce this week called out the governor for saying tax rebates and other relief granted to taxpayers in recent years could be in danger without implementing the toll plan.

“The threat also confirms what Republicans have been saying for two years that unless an amendment to the state constitution is approved to guarantee the permanency of property tax relief, promises by Corzine and Democrats to the contrary were meaningless,” said DeCroce, R-Morris and Passaic in a statement. “New Jersey taxpayers should not be pawns in a political blackmail plot.”

Even democrats - like Senator Barbara Buono, Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee - are calling for more openness of information regarding the toll plan.

“If this (proposal) is designed to cure our fiscal ills, we really need to see what’s on every shelf in the medicine cabinet,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex, in a statement. “In the initial stops on his public tour, the Governor has been upfront and knowledgeable, but now we’ll need to examine what’s beyond the labels.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Corzine continues a tour of the state's counties, explaining the plan to residents in town hall meetings.

The governor said he wants the state legislature to pass the plan by mid-March, although that looks like a daunting task with little public support for the plan.

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