If a New Jersey state lawmaker gets his way, private groups
would have an opportunity to run the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State
Parkway in exchange for as much as $15 billion to the state.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, this week unveiled a legislative
proposal that would authorize leasing the roadways to help reduce the state
debt, which exceeds $50 billion.
He said that without a new means to generate revenue, the
state won't be able to adequately fund such programs that include transportation
"New Jersey is at a crossroad," Lesniak said in a written
statement. "We cannot raise taxes or increase our debt, but we have obligations
to invest in our future that we must make, or we will go backwards as a state."
His plan includes a provision that would allow the Turnpike
Authority the option of matching the best private firm offer. If the offer is
equaled by the Authority, the state would be required to accept the Authority's
Another provision would allow annual toll increases to be
tied to the gross domestic product for commercial vehicles. Rate increases for
cars would be linked with the consumer price index.
Lawmakers would have 60 days to veto any privatization deal.
If a deal does go through, the State Police would continue to patrol the
Lesniak said the state shouldn't settle for anything less
than $10 billion to $15 billion for a lease up to 75 years.
While Gov. Jon Corzine is said to still be deciding how he
feels about the leasing idea, the list of lawmakers and others lining up in
opposition to the plan is growing.
Assembly Transportation Committee chairman John Wisniewski,
D-Middlesex, has expressed his skepticism of the idea for months. Any bill to
lease state roadways would likely have to pass through his committee.
"I would scrutinize any bill very carefully. You can tell
I'm not a fan of this," Wisniewski told the Home
One bill - A3686 - that is sure to get a long look from
Wisniewski and other opponents of lease deals is a measure that would prohibit
foreign groups to take over operation of infrastructure such as the New Jersey
A separate effort - A3952 - would require a public vote on
asset sales worth more than $100 million.
Lesniak acknowledged this week he has a very steep hill to
climb to get his proposal through the statehouse. "Hopefully, my bill will
start a debate," he said.
Lesniak is expected to introduce his bill Monday, Feb. 5.
- By Keith Goble,
state legislative editor