TRENTON – Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement regarding today’s Committee hearing on the Governor’s financial restructuring plan, which is balanced on the assumption of a public benefits corporation which will be empowered to institute massive toll hikes over the next 14 years:
“While I can appreciate what Governor Corzine is attempting to do in terms of fixing New Jersey’s perennial budgetary problems and tackling the State’s ever-increasing debt obligations, I have a number of serious concerns regarding his current proposal.
“I believe that the Administration has thoughtfully considered their current plan based on the fiscal goals of debt reduction and dedicated transportation funding. However, when I asked whether the Administration or its consultants had prepared any sort of impact study on the individual drivers and small businesses which rely on toll roads, I was surprised to learn that little to no consideration was given to the people who will pay these tolls every day.
“Before the Legislature is asked to approve any plan which will lock the State into more than a decade of massive toll increases, lawmakers need to know more about the drivers which use these roads. We need to know how toll increases will affect people in various income brackets, in regards to a percentage of their weekly income. And we need to recognize the impact of higher tolls on small business owners, who can’t absorb increased transportations costs and are put at a serious disadvantage to their larger competitors in a free market.
“Beyond the lack of impact data, I am adamantly opposed to new tolls on Route 440, a vital transportation conduit in my legislative district. Middlesex County drivers already pay a disproportionate percentage of the State’s tolls on the Garden State Parkway and Turnpike, and to expand tolls to a currently toll-free road seems to be a blatant money grab.
“The toll increases which are the essence of the Governor’s financial restructuring plan have to be tempered with the real-life effects on drivers who need to stretch their transportation dollars even further. We need to know at what point we’re pricing these various major highways out of the income range of average commuters, and we need to balance the economic needs of the State with the economic needs of real people. When we see the real impact on drivers, the Governor may need to come up with a Plan B to secure Legislative approval at the end of the day.”