New Jersey governor calls for 50% toll increase

Plan would begin in 2010 and aim to cut state debt

News Inquirer Trenton Bureau January 09, 2008
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Under Gov. Corzine’s new plan to raise money to pay down debt and fix roads and bridges, New Jersey drivers would pay at least 50% more in highway tolls, starting in 2010.

Corzine suggested a specific amount—$38 billion—to be raised for the plan in his annual State of the State speech Jan. 8.

The plan involves raising tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway.

Republican State Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr. immediately criticized the plan as a hidden tax hike.

“The governor is now proposing the largest tax increase on the citizens of this state that they have ever seen to pay for a massive borrowing scheme,” Kean said.

But Corzine, who refers to his plan as “tough love,” said he had no other option but to urge “significant toll hikes.”

“The number-one issue facing our state is fixing our financial foundation,” Corzine said. “The crisis has morphed into a full-fledged financial emergency and poses a direct threat to New Jersey’s quality of life.”

Under his plan, fares would be raised 50% every four years between 2010 and 2022, as well as by an additional cumulative amount of a projected 3% annually to accommodate inflation. Those increases would be grouped together and phased in together only at the four-year points.

Also under his plan, the average car driver who takes a 23-mile, $1.20 trip on the New Jersey Turnpike now would be charged $2.05 in tolls for the same trip in 2010. In 2014, the trip would cost $5.85.

Corzine's plan must be approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. In a statement, Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) dubbed the plan a "hard sell." But he also admitted that the state’s severe financial hardships and announced he saw no better proposal on the horizon.

Even as he described his controversial plan, Corzine also recommended several fiscally conservative steps to go along with it.

He promised his next state budget would freeze overall spending at current levels. He also called for laws to forbid the state from relying on one-shot revenue gimmicks and to amend the state constitution to require voters to approve most loans.

Transportation academics say New Jersey tolls are relatively low compared with the rest of the country.

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