If a New Jersey state lawmaker gets his way, private groups
would have an opportunity to own a piece of the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden
Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Elizabeth, has drafted a bill that
would authorize the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to sell or lease a 49-percent
interest in the two roadways to raise $6 billion to help pay down the state’s
pension liabilities. The embattled pension system is $12 billion in the hole.
“We have to find creative ways to deal with the budgetary
deficits we face in this state,” Lesniak told The
The state could set up a for-profit corporation to run the
highways. A noncontrolling interest would be sold or leased to investors while
the state would keep 51 percent ownership.
Investors would get a fixed rate of return estimated at as
much as 8 percent. New Jersey would continue to run the roadways and collect
Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Clinton Township, said the partial privatization proposal is equivalent to borrowing to balance the
Gov. Jon Corzine also appeared unimpressed with the plan.
The Democratic governor said without paying down debt or investing in capital
functions, he would be against it.
“I’m more inclined to believe that if you are going to do
something with turnpikes or parkways, it should go into long-term benefits. I
think that pension payments are an operating expense,” Corzine told The Star-Ledger.
Corzine told The
Associated Press he would be unwilling to sell or lease roads in the
state without first examining situations in Indiana – which just OK’d a 75-year
lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign consortium – and Chicago where in
2005 the city leased its elevated highway known as the Skyway to the same
foreign group for 99 years.
The governor said he would want to analyze how the deals
affect tolls and maintenance.
Lesniak’s proposal would also prohibit any increase in
fares until 2010. At that point, any rate increases would be limited to the
rate of inflation.
The proposed bill – S1777 – is scheduled to be introduced
formally when the Legislature returns from a break in early May.