Lesniak Promotes Turnpike Leasing For Debt Reduction

TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak today unveiled a landmark legislative proposal to authorize leasing the operations of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, a plan he believes will promote economic growth, encourage investment and dramatically reduce the total State debt which now exceeds $50 billion.

“New Jersey is at a crossroad,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union, and Chairman of the Senate Economic Growth Committee. “We cannot raise taxes or increase our debt, but we have obligations to invest in our future that we must make, or we will go backwards as a state.”

Under Senator Lesniak’s bill, operations of the Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the PNC Bank Arts Center could be leased to a private company or to the authority itself. If sanctioned by the Governor and the Legislature, the so-called public-private or public-public partnership could provide revenues to reduce State debt by up to $15 billion, Sen. Lesniak said.

“To encourage investments in our schools, higher education, open space and our transportation infrastructure, we need to find creative ways to unlock the hidden value and potential of our existing assets,” Senator Lesniak said.

The Lesniak proposal would authorize the State Treasurer to solicit lease proposals from private firms, but afford the Turnpike Authority the option of matching or bettering the best private firm offer. If the Authority could match the best private firm bid, the Treasurer would be required to accept it, under the bill.

“I am confident that conditions that have to be met will protect the motoring public and, most importantly, the people of New Jersey,” Senator Lesniak said.

The conditions to be accepted by either a private bidder or the Turnpike Authority include:

– Security: Continued State support for State Police patrols on the turnpike authority’s highways at levels determined solely by the State Police themselves. Unfettered access to be maintained by the Office of Homeland Security.

– Tolls: Any toll increase to be limited to the increase in the Consumer Price Index for cars and to the Gross Domestic Product for commercial vehicles. If a private vendor is chosen, the State Economic Development Authority will be asked to develop additional non-toll revenues. If the Turnpike Authority is chosen, it will be directed to establish public-private partnerships for developing additional non-toll revenues. All additional non-toll revenues will be dedicated to reducing future toll increases.

Authority Employees: If a private vendor is selected, all employees of the Turnpike Authority will be retained as State employees for two successive collective bargaining agreements or six years, whichever is longer.

Maintenance: Investments in road safety maintenance will be certified by a State-chosen consulting engineer, as is the current practice.

“Hopefully, my bill will start a debate on the very future of New Jersey,” Senator Lesniak said. “We’ve made bipartisan blunders from the fiscal mismanagement of Governor Whitman to the fiscal neglect of Governor McGreevey and all of us share the blame. That’s why it is so important that we cast aside political considerations and explore these options with an open mind.”

Senator Lesniak said New Jersey must encourage policies that go beyond making government more efficient and eliminating waste to reducing debt and instilling voter confidence to sanction investments in education, transportation and open space.

“We want our young people to receive top-quality educations here in New Jersey and then to remain in New Jersey and raise their families in homes they can afford,” Senator Lesniak said. “To achieve those cherished goals, I think it’s well worth it to do bold things now that will provide rewards for future generations.”

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