As we all know by now, the state faces tens of billions of dollars in debt and other unfunded obligations. Governor Corzine has been up-front about this harsh reality and proposed a plan – albeit an unfair one – to try to solve the fiscal crisis. So, given the magnitude of the problem, it’s unfortunate that Republicans are choosing to score political points instead of offering solutions.
Recently, three of the Republicans vying for the chance to challenge Assemblywoman Linda Stender in the NJ-7 congressional race tried to score points on the issue. But they’re apparently not up on their facts.
Kate Whitman kicked off her campaign with an email asking Linda Stender: “Why Haven’t You Denounced the Governor’s Toll Increase Plan?”
On February 8th, State Senator Leonard Lance demanded that Stender denounce Corzine’s plan:
“I am calling on Linda Stender to oppose Gov. Corzine’s massive tax and spend plan…”
And in a press release issued the same day, another candidate, Dr. P. Kelly Hatfield, “questioned why Assemblywoman Linda Stender, has been mum on the Governor’s plan to raise tolls on NJ roadways.”:
“Other high ranking Democrats have either spoken out for or against the plan or have admitted to reviewing it but Stender has yet to even acknowledge the plan’s existence.”
In fact, Assemblywoman Stender has been clear on her position for weeks – before any of her potential challengers decided to make political hay of the issue.
We obtained a letter that Stender sent to a constituent concerned about the toll plan on January 18, 2008. In the letter, Stender clearly states that “I am opposed to Governor Corzine’s plan.”
(Click the image to the right for a larger version of the letter.)
The letter reads in part:
Thank you for contacting my office to express your opposition to Governor Jon S. Corzine’s financial restructuring and debt reduction plan, which includes significant increases in tolls along a few of New Jersey’s most heavily traveled roads.
Please be assured that I am opposed to Governor Corzine’s plan. While I agree that efforts to reduce our state debt and ending the practice of spending beyond our means must be made, I do not believe Governor Corzine’s plan is a realistic or just approach to solving New Jersey’s financial challenges. It is unreasonable to penalize residents and businesses that rely on thoroughfares such as the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway for commuting to and from work or for facilitation of business needs in order to correct decades of overspending. A solution to our budgetary problems must instead focus on cuts in spending while preserving assets that have a history of benefiting the residents of this state.
So while these three Republican contenders were trying to land political punches, Assemblywoman Stender was doing something far more important — serving her constituents. She, too, could have scored points by touting her opposition to the plan in the media. It’s likely as unpopular with the voters of the seventh as it with voters in the rest of the state. But she decided not to go that route, sharing her views with those she represents.
Politics and policy making are getting scrambled together on this issue, from dueling press releases from campaigns at all levels, to radio stations trying to up their listenership with Statehouse stunts. But our state’s finances are a matter of serious concern. Even if the NJ-7 Republicans were simply mistaken, rather than lying, they clearly now owe it to the Assemblywoman to correct the record and share the truth with their supporters. I won’t be holding my breath.