Corzine touts road financing in AC

Gov. Jon S. Corzine today delivered his address to League of Municipalities delegates gathered in Atlantic City, and stressed a need to overhaul the state’s finances to address rampant debt through his asset monetization program.

The program would turn over some of the state’s most valuable assets – its massive toll highways – over to some sort of management entity that would take over the operations of the roads and use their revenue to cut the state’s $32 billion debt in half, according to Gov. Corzine, who said that was about $3,700 in debt for each man, woman, and child in the state.

“As you have probably heard or read, the plan will involve leveraging the untapped value in the state’s toll roads in order to dramatically pay down debt and create a permanent funding source for state’s Transportation Trust Fund,” Gov. Corzine said.

Opponents have scoffed at the idea, and compared the plan to situations in other states where private entities took over the roads and doubled and trebled tolls, but Gov. Corzine said this would not be done with the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike.

“There will be no sale of any roads, period,” said Gov. Corzine. “And there will be no lease to a private bidder or foreign owner.”

Opponents have said they believe the relief of $15 billion in state debt would require a 150 percent increase in highway tolls, although the specifics of the plan have not yet been released.

Gov. Corzine said the defeat of the stem cell research ballot question in last week’s election was a way for the New Jersey voters to make a point about the condition of the state’s finances, and the need for something to turn the situation around.

Also stressed during the speech was a need for a comprehensive revamping of the state’s school funding formula, which has been in a frozen hiatus since 2002, after budget problems resulted in an aid freeze.

That means that as districts see an increase in pupils, their per-pupil aid goes down, and some of the worst property taxes in the nation go up.

Gov. Corzine said the New Jersey Department of Education will present a new formula to the legislature in the coming weeks, which could be the light at the end of the tunnel for the school funding-property tax nightmare.


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