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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ-Gov. Jon Corzine was not the bearer of good tidings Tuesday, speaking before the Public Policy Symposium of the New Jersey Chapter of Naiop here yesterday. Noting such challenges as the current state of the economy–”I believe we’re in recession,” he said, echoing Warren Buffet–that condition only exacerbates the “structural deficiencies of state and local finances.”

Corzine also expressed concerns about New Jersey’s competitiveness vis-à-vis neighboring states, admitting that when it comes to tax structure, “we’re at a disadvantage.” Add to that chronic congestion issues and a dated infrastructure and, “I could talk on and on about the challenges,” he said.

His remarks came against a backdrop of a state fiscal crisis and his own plan to generate cash from substantial toll hikes on the state’s superhighways coupled with substantial budget cuts, recently revealed. All that said, “the state has great strengths,” Corzine told NJ-Naiop attendees, “and the biggest strength is location. We have an incredible location, great demographics and incredible advantages to build on.”

But the state “needs financial restructuring,” he said. And while his proposed toll hikes have not been well received, nothing is etched in stone, including possible increases in the gasoline tax. He admitted that the latter “is not my favorite choice.” His financial restructuring plan comes down to three points: keeping the state budget at the $32.5-billion level, limiting spending in the future, and limiting state debt, currently in the $115-billion range.

“The first step,” Corzine said, “is that I ask for your help in passing the budget I’ve proposed.” He did admit, meanwhile, that as far as his toll hike plan, as proposed, “it’s fair to say that I don’t have the 21 [votes in the State Senate] and 41 votes [in the Assembly] for the plan as it currently exists.

Ultimately, “economic growth is the way we get out of this situation,” Corzine said. Pointing to new state incentives such as the new $75-million transit hub bill, “which I would like to see extended to the ports,” as well as “lots of things happening in Newark, Atlantic City and on the waterfront, we will be in a good position when the economy turns.

“Lots of things are on the table that we’re pushing for,” Corzine concluded. “I’m optimistic, but we have to get fiscal responsibility into the equation.”

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