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11-11-05 Trenton Times Corzine puts property taxes at the top of his agenda

Corzine puts property taxes at the top of his agenda

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Staff Writer

Gov.-elect Jon Corzine vowed to make property taxes an early priority and began organizing his incoming administration yesterday as Republicans bashed each other following an election that increased state government muscle for Democrats.

After a 9 percentage point victory in Tuesday's gubernatorial election, Corzine met commuters in Iselin and named Richard C. Leone, who boasts wide-ranging public service experience, to lead his transition team.

With New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes always a leading concern among residents, Corzine said he would make solving the problem a top initiative in his early days as governor.

"There is no question we have a serious, serious problem in New Jersey with regard to property taxes," Corzine said. "I intend to tackle that."

Corzine has promised to increase property tax rebates 10 percent per year, to call the Legislature into special session to discuss reform and to ask lawmakers to approve asking voters to convene a constitutional convention on property tax reform.

"We'll have to build a consensus," Corzine said. "I'll be reaching out across the (political) aisle. If we're going to have real reform with property taxes, it won't be something you accomplish because you just work with Democrats."

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Clinton Township, said property tax relief and ethics reform are major priorities for Senate Republicans, who are ready to listen.

"We're not going to oppose him merely for the sake of opposition," Lance said.

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, set to become Assembly speaker for next year, will finally have someone in the governor's office who supports his long-pushed convention plan.

"It'll be welcome leadership," Roberts said.

Roberts will lead an Assembly caucus that seemingly gained two seats, boosting its majority to 49-31, though the exact complexion remained uncertain because of several tight Assembly races.

"We will return to Trenton as a General Assembly who has heard loud and clear that property taxes are the biggest problem we have confronting our state," Roberts said.

-- -- --

Leone, a resident of Princeton Township, helped Brendan Byrne make the transition to governor in the 1970s and was Byrne's state treasurer. He went on to become president of the New York Mercantile Exchange, managing director of an investment banking firm and from 1988 to 1994 was chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Once a Princeton University professor, he has most recently led The Century Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization.

Corzine's campaign said Leone will help Corzine outline how his administration will operate, fill Cabinet posts and provide policy advice.

"Not only is Dick Leone one of the brightest minds and ablest managers in our great state, he is also a public servant of the highest integrity," Corzine said.

Leone said he looked forward to helping Corzine "build a strong administration that makes positive changes in government and the lives of New Jersey families."

"I believe that Governor-elect Corzine means what he says when he talks about setting a new direction in New Jersey, and I'd like to help," Leone said.

Corzine began working on his new administration, while West Windsor businessman Doug Forrester, Corzine's Republican opponent, moved back into private life. He released a statement that reiterated his congratulations to Corzine.

"No amount of campaign conflict should discourage us from seeking common ground for New Jersey's benefit," Forrester said.

-- -- --

The gubernatorial campaign between the two wealthy candidates was the most expensive and likely the nastiest in state history. In a message posted on his Web site yesterday, Corzine said, "New Jersey voters showed that ideas are stronger than insults, that substance can triumph over slogans and that smear tactics are not welcome here."

The heavy personal spending continued in the closing days, with Corzine contributing $2.85 million to his campaign on Nov. 3, according to state campaign spending reports released yesterday. Corzine spent $37.4 million of his own money on the general election and $3.9 million on the primary.

Forrester put another $400,000 of his own money into the campaign Nov. 5, increasing his personal general election spending to $19.25 million. He spent about $11.2 million of his own on his primary.

Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, a conservative who lost to Forrester in the GOP gubernatorial primary and is expected to run for governor in 2009, called for new Republican leadership. He decried Forrester's bid to attract moderates in the general election.

"The Republican Party faced a humiliating defeat in (Tuesday) night's election because the party leadership went out of its way to tell conservatives to shut up and sit in the back of the bus," Lonegan said.

But Forrester said he was "extremely proud of my campaign and the alternatives we presented to the people of New Jersey."

Lonegan vowed to lead the fight against Corzine's initiatives.

"When Republicans in our state become the conservative party, we will be the majority once again," Lonegan said.

But Lance said the last two Republicans to win statewide office - Governors Thomas H. Kean and Christie Whitman - were moderates. He said Republicans will achieve statewide success when they maintain fiscal conservatism.

"The Democrats have been profligate in their spending, and in my judgment Republicans didn't do as good a job as they could have done in the 1990s," Lance said. "We have to be consistent in that."

He said Democrats may continue to control the governor's office and the Legislature but said Senate Republicans remain formidable. Besides a special election to decide a seat held by Democrats, the Senate wasn't up for election and will maintain its 22-18 Democratic majority.

"The Senate Republican caucus remains strong," Lance said. "It is 18 of 40, so it is very strong numerically."

-- -- --

Corzine's win meant jostling began for his soon-to-be-open U.S. Senate seat. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-Long Branch, made calls around the state yesterday to try to build support.

"I would be the best general election candidate," Pallone said. "I've historically run in Republican areas, particularly Monmouth and Ocean counties. I would basically take away the opportunity for Republicans to win in those counties, which would take away any chance they have of winning."

Corzine said he hasn't given "any serious thought" about who he would appoint to fill the final year of his U.S. Senate term.

NOTE: Contact State House bureau chief Tom Hester Jr. at thester@njtimes.com or at (609) 777-4464. (

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