Only in New Jersey: Road Worriers

Mammoth toll hikes could be minimized if legislators would cut the fat, end home rule, and bump up the gas tax a nickel. And residents? We’ve got some tough choices to make.

BAM! That’s the sound of the other shoe dropping. Last month, in his state-of-the-state speech, Governor Jon Corzine gave a blunt assessment of a bleak situation and called for a revolutionary plan to help eliminate the state’s ghastly $36 billion debt. Bumping tolls on the Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway by 800 percent over the next 20 years was as well-received as Britney Spears telling a judge she’s ready to take her kids back.

To help get legislators and their constituents off the ledge, Corzine is hosting Town Hall meetings across the state to explain the plan. He even enlisted Bob Franks, his GOP opponent from his Senatorial campaign, to help him run the numbers. Senate President Dick Codey has pledged quasi-support by saying, “The state is broken.”

Surely Corzine realizes the political ramifications of a plan this bold, and is holding as steady as he can against the vitriol tossed his way. It was rumored that part of the Governor’s original plan was to add tolls on Route 440. That highway bisects Democratic Senator Ray Lesniak’s district. Lesniak went ballistic about seven seconds after the Governor’s speech and promised to fight it. The 440 nugget has been conspicuously missing from the governor’s talking points ever since.

To his credit, the Governor has continued to push his message. He has suggested that there could be tweaks, especially as a means of helping the Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex county residents who will be disproportionately whacked by the hikes.

Codey proposed leasing the New Jersey Lottery as another way to help get the state out from under. Don’t think Codey’s proposal isn’t intended  to tweak Corzine just a bit. Either way, Corzine appears to be in it for the long haul, and could realize that a compromise with lawmakers from both parties is the only way to get any form of fiscal revolution passed. To that end, we humbly submit that all options be placed on the table. Here are a few ideas:

BUMP THE GAS TAX BY A NICKEL. Our tariff would still rank next-to-last in the nation, yet we’d generate roughly $1 billion in annual revenue.

INSTITUTE A SPENDING FREEZE.  No Jersey legislators worth their weight in pork-barrel projects will go for that. Budgets get blown by year-end “Christmas tree” put-backs, so don’t mess with the future just because you promised someone a parking lot.   

GOVERNMENT LAYOFFS. Legislators and residents have little motivation to be agents of change because literally half of us work for the state in some capacity. But who says government jobs are for life? Great savings can be generated by simply not filling jobs vacated by people who retire or move on to new jobs.

Don’t “JUST SAY NO.” Any lawmaker who blurts “No!”—without offering tangible alternatives—gets an automatic hook. Gone. Buh-bye. It’ll never happen, but it would only take one fired legislator to get others in line.

TOWN CONSOLIDATION. Ahhh, our sacrosanct albatross, home rule. We have 566 towns and 616 school districts. We rail against government spending, but are obsessed with having our own local police departments, fire squads, and schools. We don’t want to consolidate with any other town, even if the adjacent burg is as tiny as ours and keeping the status quo is obscenely inefficient and wasteful.

Are we going far enough? Send more ideas to [email protected]

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