Monday, July 16, 2007

From "In the Lobby"


July 16, 2007

No one ever said that Gov. Corzine was not a clever man.

You don’t rise to the top of Goldman Sachs without having some smarts. And you don’t win a U.S. Senate seat without strategizing what it is that you’ll have to do – or how much money you’ll have to spend -- to get there.

We see the strategizer is at work again.

We started noticing a few months ago, how Corzine was withholding support for a popular open space referendum but promising to fund it, if only his monetization program would pass.

Then the governor announced that he would swap $1 billion in federal road repair money and instead use that to help finance the proposed Trans-Hudson Tunnel, which would add a second rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York. He would fund necessary road repairs, he said, from the Transportation Trust Fund.

But wait – wasn’t the lack of money for road and infrastructure repairs one of the first things Corzine mentions when it comes to what he would do with funds that were freed up with asset monetization?

Why, yes he does.

Interesting, we thought.

Then, a few weeks ago, Treasurer Bradley Abelow gave an interview where he said that the state would really like to cut business taxes if it could. Freeing up funds, via asset monetization, would go a long way toward doing that he said.

And then we started seeing a checklist at work.

Environmentalists and open space advocates. Check.

Construction workers and road advocates. Check.

Business groups and company leaders. Check.

We became even more curious when we learned that Abelow is setting up private meetings with key constituency groups to discuss asset monetization, and how the money could help those groups.

Could the governor possibly be trying to line up support for his asset monetization plan, before he even unveils it, by promising “goodies” to key constituent groups who would then be inclined to support it?

Could that be why he’s been so slow to release any information about what his plan would look like, or why his administration keeps delaying on Republican requests to release information on what money the state has spent, and to whom, and what work has been produced?

After all, it’s a lot easier to get a controversial proposal, like a plan that would all but guarantee toll hikes for commuters – possibly even annual toll hikes for commuters – if you already have some of the state’s key constituency groups lined up behind you.

We already know that the governor is planning to put some of his own money into an ad campaign to try and sell his asset monetization proposal. He all but admitted that they’ve already begun talking to advertising agencies.

Now, it appears, they may also be talking to campaign strategists. Or maybe the governor is just widening his target audience.

According to the Auditor in the Star Ledger on Sunday, more than 26,000 people were e-mailed a transcript of the governor's remarks -- in which he pledged not to sell or lease the New Jersey Turnpike – and his eight core principles of asset monetization. The e-mail was reportedly sent to the mayors, council members and clerks of every one of the state's boroughs, towns and cities; every county elected official and all state lawmakers; “virtually every political constituency,” including African- American clergy, organized labor, environmental activists, women business leaders, members of the NJ Business & Industry Association, veterans and seniors; every lobbyist; 6,000 members signed up on the Democratic State Committee list, and 11,000 affiliated with the Alliance for Action and the Utility Transportation Contractors Association. There’s even a link to it on the state’s home page. In addition, the Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Education and School Construction Corporation sent the transcript to their respective global e-mail lists.



And check.

We have a question: If the governor’s office was so concerned about blurring the line between political and governmental that it had to keep a campaign e-mail account, that it used to send e-mails to, say, Carla Katz, then why didn’t it use the campaign e-mail accounts to send out this e-mail as well.

Sure seems political to us – especially if the governor’s going to be spending money on an advertising campaign.

After all, he sent the list to Democratic legislators, hoping they would use it as a shield against Republicans, so they could say they were against what the governor has already said he wouldn’t do – without having to explain what they would do.

And, by the way, where did the governor’s office compile this massive e-mail list? Do they just so happen to have a database on hand with the e-mail addresses of “every political constituency,” lobbyists, and elected local officials? That requires some research – and sounds a whole lot more like campaign research, than governmental research, to us.

We believe the governor’s time would be far better spent if he told us what his asset monetization plan was, rather than what it was not.

But based on what he’s doing, we can already see what the governor has in mind. He’ll take whatever money he gets from asset monetization, and spend it on whatever program he has to in order to secure support from whatever constituency group he needs.

It’s not unlike the strategy he employed when running for office.

But here’s the difference: then, he was spending his own money. Now, he’s spending ours.

The governor might have the biggest heart in the world. He might want to solve all the world’s problems, be they universal health care, child care, or education.

But the citizens he represents can’t afford to keep paying more in taxes. And what he’s creating, with his asset monetization plan, is a shell game, where he pays off yesterday’s debt, but then he creates new debt, by spending more money that he doesn’t really have.

Which is exactly what got New Jersey in trouble in the first place.

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