TRENTON - New Jersey has spent $7.3 million on Gov. Corzine's stalled plan to increase highway tolls, and may soon spend more.
Treasurer David Rousseau told an Assembly Budget Committee yesterday that the money had gone toward legal fees and consultants who developed the proposal, which would boost tolls on the Atlantic City Expressway, Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike to pay state debt and fund transportation.
The report of $7.3 million in fees comes as Corzine seeks $2.7 billion in spending cuts next fiscal year to address state budget woes. By comparison, the administration wants to save $4.5 million by closing nine state parks.
Corzine has acknowledged his plan lacks support, and he is weighing alternatives. Legislators have suggested lesser toll increases, raising the gas tax, and putting tolls on I-78 and I-80, but nothing official has been considered.
On top of the money already spent, the state owes its financial adviser, UBS, $365,000 for the plan, Treasury spokesman Tom Vincz said. Rousseau said an alternate proposal would mean more expense, though he said completed engineering and legal work could be used.
"If any proposal is resurrected during the next fiscal year, we will probably have to spend money on different aspects, different studies, different things that we need done, different ideas that come from the Legislature that we want to study," Rousseau said.
He didn't know how much money that might mean.
Assemblyman Joe Malone (R., Burlington) suggested passing legislation that would set exact spending levels for the administration as it continued work on a plan to cut debt and fund transportation.
"Wouldn't it be better to outline in a piece of legislation exactly what the parameters are, what we are intending to review, rather than doing it this way?" Malone asked.
"Every dollar becomes precious" as the state weighs cutting funding for vital services and imposing medical co-payments for the poor and elderly, he said.
Corzine in January proposed increasing tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. After 2022, tolls would increase every four years until 2085 to reflect inflation.