"We're at a precarious crossroads," warned moderator MichaelSeeve of Mountain Development Corp., Clifton. In the currentclimate, Seeve pointed out, construction costs are high due to theprice of oil, financing is difficult to secure and approvals slowto arrive. The other panelists agreed that New Jersey is in acrisis.

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"We need bold moves and we're not taking them," said Lesniak."We need bipartisan support and we're not giving it."

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But bipartisan support will only work if those in poweracknowledge that there's a problem, as Hughes pointed out. He wenton to cite statistics that clearly spell out the fact that NewJersey has experienced anemic job growth in the past several years,only matching the job growth of the country in 2008, when nationaljob growth "cratered."

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"The economy isn't going to turn around on its own, we needproactive economic policies," Hughes said. "We need to look atevery piece of legislation and examine its potential economicimpact."

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Legislation, Mulshine asserted, has been the problem all along."We've been overtaxed and overregulated in this state," he said.Mulshine asserted that former Gov. James McGreevy's legislationagainst corporations and millionaire's tax helped turn New Jerseyfrom a state seen as a low-cost alternative to New York City andPhiladelphia into a state viewed as unfriendly to business. Inaddition, he contended, the state's policies to put areas such asthe Highlands and Pinelands off limits to development curtailednecessary growth and made it more difficult to develop affordablehousing.

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The panel saw no quick fixes on the horizon. "There is no silverbullet to cure our problems," Hughes said. "We have to recognizethat we have these problems and make an effort to be more businessfriendly."

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The sore subject of toll increases was raised again when Lesniakmentioned that the state does, in fact, intend to raisetolls--though not by 800% as was previously suggested--to pay forbridge and road repairs and the proposed second tunnel--theTrans Hudson Express--to New York City, a projectLesniak believes will have an enormous economic impact on NewJersey because it will stimulate development around the state'strain stations. Mulshine countered the toll hike proposal with thesuggestion that raising the gas tax slightly will be a moreefficient way to raise capital for the state.

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Higher gas prices may have a silver lining, as Hughes pointedout, because suddenly distance matters again and companies mayreconsider moving to states that are cheaper, but also further awayfrom New York City."Our geographic advantage will start to matteragain, so there are some benefits to this new, painful reality," hesaid.

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