PIGS FLY OVER STATEHOUSE


TRENTON - Pigs flew over the state house Friday as hundreds of people rallied against Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposed plan to raise tolls.

The rally, hosted by New Jersey 101.5, was inspired by Corzine's State of the State Address, in which he said pigs would fly over the state house before there was a realistic level of new taxes or spending cuts that could remedy New Jersey's financial problems.

"Oink, oink, oink," chanted the crowd, as the balloon animals were released. Others were singing Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," which was being played over the loudspeaker.

"We thought about how completely absurd it was to mortgage our future," radio host Ray Rossi said about forming the Flying Pig Coalition. "Most of the legislators have no intention of cutting spending."

Rossi said he was very happy about the turnout. He had been worried residents of the state would be apathetic to the tax increase.

"To see people come out and take time off work was a very heartening thing," said Rossi, of 101.5 FM's Jersey Guys.

Under Corzine's proposed plan, the state would create a non-profit corporation to oversee the toll roads. The corporation would issue up to $38 billion in bonds, which would be paid for by future toll revenue. This would pay off $16 billion of the state's existing $32 billion debt.

If the bill is passed, tolls would increase a maximum of 50 percent every four years, beginning in 2010, according to the toll schedule fact sheet on the Office of the Governor Web site. An average three-exit trip, which costs about $1.21 now, would cost about $9.85 in 2022.

The speakers and protestors at the rally had a different idea about reducing the state's debt.

"Cut spending. Cut spending. Cut spending," said the crowd led by Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

Dozens of people held signs which read "Oink if you want spending cut." Another sign read "Impeach Corzine."

Sim Hitzel, who attended the event, said New Jersey used to be an economic engine that relies on transportation.

"Corzine's tax record and the legislature's tax record is to increase spending," Hitzel said. "We need new leadership in both parties."

The state's budget has increased from about $21.7 billion in 2001 to $33.3 billion for the 2008 budget.

"Pigs flying is just a euphemism for it can't be done," Sen. Joe Pennacchio said. "Don't tell us you can't [cut spending] ... Gov. Corzine, if you can't do it step aside."

After the rally, Pennacchio said he didn't think it was necessary for Corzine to resign but to allow other legislators to make cuts in spending.

"If he doesn't want to make cuts, we'll be happy to make them for him," Pennacchio said.

The toll increase would be a less burdensome way to generate revenue than raising sales tax or gas tax, Corzine said Saturday at Hightstown High School. Since about 40 percent of the people who use the toll roads each day are from out of state, he said less of the burden would fall on New Jersey residents.

But the protesters raised concerns about how the toll hikes would affect their lives.

"I take the tolls everyday ... Everything is going to increase," said Janice Penza, an attendee of the rally.

Penza said she thought the price of basic necessities, such as gas and food, would increase due to the increased cost of transporting these goods.

John Lynch, an Aberdeen resident who works for a trucking company, said he was at the protest because he was concerned about keeping his job.

"I can guarantee I won't have a job if the toll increase goes through because the company won't be there any more," Lynch said.

Other residents, such as Hitzel, attended because they were concerned about how the plan would affect future New Jersey residents, particularly the upcoming generations.

"They're spending our children's future. They are pushing our state into bankruptcy," Hitzel said. "It's been very hard to maintain a living, raise a family [and] save for college."

Even people who don't regularly use the toll roads came out to show support for the cause.

"I don't support these tolls. I'm retired. I don't even use the parkway that much," said Robert Varela, another attendee of the event. "He's done nothing but increase spending. He's got to cut it out."

John Millet, member of Citizens Against Tolls, said former Gov. James E. McGreevy promised in 2001 that the tolls would be down in seven years.

"Forget about raising the tolls, let's talk about taking them down," Millet said.

Millet said the voice and vote of the people were more powerful than any business on Wall Street.

"This plan is failing because of your help ... It's failing, but it's not dead yet," Kean said. "New Jersey families cannot afford the 800 percent increase. New Jersey families cannot afford more traffic on the local roads. New Jersey families can not afford to pay more."


Michelle Cerone

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