Friday, December 22, 2006

New Jersey road privatization scheme: "The unintended consequences of this bad public policy are nearly incalculable."

Headed down wrong road


Asbury Park Press
Copyright 2006

Gov. Corzine says he will decide by May whether to sell or lease state assets — including toll roads — to help cut property taxes and pay down debt. That would give the state a large cash infusion in the near term. But it also could cause some major headaches — financial and otherwise — well into the future.

Leasing the state's toll roads is a one-shot budget gimmick — something Corzine pledged to avoid. Two recent deals in other parts of the country have state officials salivating: Chicago will get $1.83 billion for a 99-year lease of toll roads and Indiana will get $3.85 billion for a 75-year lease. But Chicago and Indiana motorists will also get skyrocketing tolls and roads that may not be maintained to standards to which they are accustomed.

"The unintended consequences of this bad public policy are nearly incalculable," Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said Wednesday. He's right.

A broad coalition of groups — labor, environmental and anti-tax — urged the state Tuesday to proceed with caution before agreeing to lease the state's toll roads to a private company. As John Budzash, chairman of Hands Across New Jersey, put it: "If we can't do the job better than a private business, we are being run extremely poorly." He also echoed a lament we've often heard from our readers: that Corzine should start using his business acumen and run the state like a business. You don't sell off some of your best assets to close a short-term deficit — particularly if there are other cost-cutting options on the table.

Abigail C. Field, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, said there are few, if any, scenarios in which private ownership of the state's highways would benefit the taxpayers.

When Corzine was still a candidate, he spoke of his plans to reduce New Jersey's reliance on borrowed funds and budget gimmicks while protecting assets. In his March 21 budget speech, his second of four principles was: "We must stop borrowing and using gimmicks to pay today's bills." Leasing our toll roads runs counter to everything he's said — and to sound public policy.

Weary of short-term budgetary fixes that have done nothing to solve the state's long-term fiscal problems, New Jersey taxpayers should be more than skeptical of any plans to sell public assets that can only provide short-term property tax relief.

Corzine should dust off the "Management 101" agenda he boasted about as a candidate. The state should be able to run the toll roads less expensively and more efficiently and safely than a private company. It will take a leader with the gumption to toss out the political hacks and eliminate the no-show jobs and waste in the system. That's what voters expected when they elected Corzine: to see efficient business practices put into place. Not to make their roads a profit center for a private company.

StoryChat Comment:

Any up-front payment for the toll roads will be paid for with money borrowed by the "buyer."

And the borrowed money will be backed with increased toll revenue that the "buyer" gets to keep from sucker drivers.

Let's see... have someone else borrow money and give it to you and then let them keep money that would have been yours so they can pay off their debt and so you can look (at least on paper) like you have less debt too. Sounds as stupid and conflicted as the idiot democrats who run Trenton. The only people who get anything out of that are the greedy vultures on Wall Street that pick at NJ's carcass. Typical Cor$ine.

Posted by: scubadude on Fri Dec 22, 2006 2:33 pm

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