September 24, 2018 | ° F

Corzine defends toll plan at local high school

Gov. Jon S. Corzine announced Route 440, a highway running from New Jersey to Staten Island, will no longer act as a source of revenue under his plan to balance the New Jersey budget Sunday. He spoke about his debt reduction plan to a crowd of about 700 people at the East Brunswick High school.

"I don't think we will be moving forward with that aspect," he said.

His original proposal included a 35 cent toll on Route 440, a highway connecting New Jersey to Staten Island.

Under Corzine's plan, a non-profit corporation would manage the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway. The corporation also would be allowed to raise tolls to a maximum of 50 percent, with inflation through 2010 and 2022.

The corporation would issue up to $38 billion in bonds to pay off debt and to fund other transportation projects in the state.

A series of booing from the audience - punctuated by applause from the governor's supporters - echoed through the auditorium of the East Brunswick High School as Corzine first walked across the stage during the beginning of the Middlesex County meeting.

"[It's] almost like going to a Giants super bowl game," he said about the mixed reception.

Many attendees said they were not pleased about his financial restructuring proposal, and they came to the meeting to voice their opinions.

Middlesex County, out of all of New Jersey, would be one of the counties hardest hit by a toll hike, Rutgers College sophomore Ben Demarzo said. Demarzo, an East Brunswick resident, was campaigning at the event for Dr. P. Kelly Hatfield, who is running for Congress.

"Middlesex County residents are the largest users of the E-Z pass, and they're going to be the ones who carry the burden," Demarzo said.

Working on the Hatfield campaign, Demarzo said he uses the toll roads everyday to go work in Union County.

Evan Piscitelli, of Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski's chief of staff, thinks the plan won't suffice as it stands right now, if it goes through N.J. Congress. Wisniewski represents District 19, which includes Carteret Borough, Perth Amboy City, Sayreville Borough, South Amboy City and Woodbridge Township.

"I don't think it's winning any popularity contests," Piscitelli said. "I'm not sure if it's in the interest of the people in New Jersey to pay debt that we're paying interest on already."

He said there are alternatives, such as raising the gas tax to fund transportation projects, rather than borrowing more money.

But Corzine said to the audience reducing New Jersey state debt is a necessity, and he said his plan is the best option.

"I'm not standing up here to say I would love to raise tolls," he said.

Raising tolls is the best approach to getting rid of the state debt, he said, as 45 percent of tolls are paid by out-of-state drivers.

He also said he thinks the problem has to be taken care of now, so future generations don't have to shoulder the burden. The government has to take responsibility and change.

"I don't think we should kick it down the road to our kids," Corzine said.

The meeting - an open, public forum for Middlesex County - served as part of Corzine's effort to explain his debt reduction plan to the public and is part of a series of town hall style meetings throughout the state, according to the governor's Web site.

Michelle Walbaum

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