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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – “There is not a more vital industry in this state and in this country,” US Senator Jon Corzine told attendees at a meeting of the New Jersey Chapter of NAIOP here last night, referring to the real estate business. “I am intrigued by the nature of your work, and I respect the contribution you make to the economy.”

New Jersey’s senior Senator, a Democrat, is a former co-chairman and co-CEO of Goldman Sachs, of course, and with his financial background has become a force in Congress in economic and regulatory issues. Among other things, he’s a member of the Senate Banking Committee. He openly admitted that he covets a position on the Senate Finance Committee, “where I feel I can really help New Jersey.”

His take on Congressional debates, these days, is that they’re less partisan than they are geographic. As one example, he pointed to the debate over transportation funding, which is “hung up between the East and West coasts, where mass transit is more important, and the Central portion of the country, where highway funding is more important.”

And the outcome of the transportation funding debate has serious overtones for New Jersey, in Corzine’s view. “Transportation is tied to building out real estate,” he pointed out. “In New Jersey, rail lines are a key to urban revitalization, for example.”

Corzine covered a broad range of other topics during his address, saying, for example, that in the upcoming election, “the choices are real. I urge you all to get involved, because your businesses are at stake, and your families are at stake.”

For the Senate in particular, Corzine explained that if that body swings over to Democratic control after November, “the Northeast stands to benefit dramatically, because the chairmen of eight key committees would all be from the Northeast.”

But in the upcoming election, “there is no more important issue than national security. There is a constant debate in Washington,” he said. For one thing, “we are not prioritizing on homeland security,” he said, pointing out that some rural, less-populated states are getting funding that’s “out of proportion to what New Jersey and other key states are getting.”

Another issue involving real estate is terrorism insurance. “We need to make sure it’s in place for high-profile properties–it’s directly tied to the economy. I predict that we will get around to an answer in Congress on this issue.”

As far as the overall economy, “I do see a sustained expansion going on,” Corzine said. “But I am worried about the fiscal deficit, and the trade imbalance.”

On a state-level issue, Corzine parted company with fellow Democrat, Gov. James McGreevey, who recently signed a bill dramatically raising the state income tax on the wealthy – those who make $500,000 or more. Asked if he thought that the tax increase, which affects many top business executives (and Corzine, coincidentally), would cause some companies to move out of state, he responded, “It’s a risk. It’s a close one. From my time in the boardroom, I know that many [executives] live over here, and not over [in New York] because of the taxes. There’s a risk that could change.”

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