SPECIAL REPORT: Corzine says toll hikes necessary to pay debts

| 1/8/2008

Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008 – New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine says 50-percent toll increases every four years starting in 2010 will pay not only for transportation needs, but also for bailing out other state debt.

Corzine unveiled a proposal he called “super secret” during his “State of the State” speech Tuesday, Jan. 8, during a joint session of the state House and Senate in Trenton, NJ.

Under Corzine’s proposal, which he hopes the Legislature will debate and approve by mid-March, the state would create and empower a “public benefit corporation” to issue bonds against the value of the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway. The plan would also convert a portion of state Route 440 into a toll road.

To pay off the bonds issued by the benefit corporation, tolls on the designated roadways would increase 50 percent in 2010 and 50 percent every four years through 2022. The schedule of four proposed toll increases would also take the rate of inflation into account, Corzine said.

The governor put to rest one theory speculating on his secretive restructuring plan.

“The roadways will not be leased or sold to a private operator,” he said.

Without a financial restructuring, the state transportation fund will be bankrupt sometime in 2011, Corzine said, adding that state debt has doubled in seven years to $32 billion.

Corzine said the toll increases would be levied fairly on all toll-road users, declaring that commercial vehicles and out-of-state traffic already pay a large portion of the state’s toll revenue.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association issued a press release to defend interstate truckers who already pay taxes and tolls to run those roads.

“We appreciated the governor’s rhetoric today on excessive spending, more transparency, and better fiscal responsibility, but don’t believe it should come on the backs of highway users and truckers who are already double-taxed on toll roads in New Jersey,” said Mike Joyce, OOIDA senior government affairs representative.

“Truckers pay tolls (a tax) on top of paying fuel taxes and other taxes for every mile they run in New Jersey, whether they are from New Jersey or not. As well, efforts to divert toll revenue to public transit are unacceptable. The money needs to go back into the roads.”

In addition to toll increases, Corzine announced three more aspects to his plan. They are:

  • Proposing a state budget in February that freezes spending at the 2007 level;
  • Curbing future debts to stay beneath the rate of revenue growth; and
  • Requiring that future debts and bonds receive approval from the Legislature.

Corzine knows the toll plan will be a tough sell to the Legislature and the public.

“I know full well that this is the tough love of the restructuring,” he said during the speech. Click here to read the speech.

For nearly a year, the Democratic governor has kept his intentions for the toll roads a secret despite a public outcry and an open-records lawsuit filed by state Republican leaders.

Now that Corzine has unveiled the proposal, the next phase is selling the plan at upcoming public meetings in all 21 New Jersey counties.
The first four meetings are as follows:
2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Jan. 12, Livingston High School, 30 Robert Harp Dr., Livingston, (609) 777-2208;

  • 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 14, Bergen County Academies, 200 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, (609) 777-2531;
  • 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 16, County College of Morris, 214 Center Grove Road, Randolph, (609) 777-2631;
  • 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Jan. 19, Middle Township High School, 300 E. Atlantic Ave., Cape May, (609) 777-2529

To sign up to speak at the public meetings, call the phone number listed with the meeting locations. Clickhere to check for additional meeting announcements.

– By David Tanner, staff writer