Corzine State-of-the-State Focuses on Finances

Corzine's address was heavy on hope but short on new initiatives, analysts say

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine called for a yearlong moratorium on developers' fees to pay for affordable housing, asked for a November ballot referendum to replenish open space funds and urged the lawmakers to allow towns to defer millions in pension fund payments.

During his annual State of the State address Tuesday to a joint session of the Assembly and Senate, the Democratic governor also braced the Democratic-controlled Legislature for a new round of painful budget cuts on top of $1.4 billion already cut this fiscal year.

Corzine's address was heavy on hope but short on new initiatives, as the governor tries to lead the state out of the worst economic recession in decades while running for re-election.

He renewed a pitch to the Legislature to allow towns to defer half their payment to the government worker pension fund, which would save them $534 million this year. The measure failed to win enough votes to pass in the Senate in December.

He suggested voters approve a question on November's ballot to pay to preserve open space, funding that has not been renewed since funds appropriated in an emergency 2007 ballot question were used up.

And he called for a one-year moratorium on real estate developers' 2.5 percent fee to pay for affordable housing projects.

Corzine, who is running for re-election, said he can advance his agenda despite limited resources. He has instructed towns not to raise their taxes by more than 4 percent, for example, and wants to see recommendations on how towns can consolidate or share services by March 31.

Many towns were able to skirt the cap last year by getting permission from the state's Local Finance Board to increase taxes beyond the limit.

Corzine promoted an agenda for economic recovery while acknowledging the serious financial constraints hamstringing the state.

``We are planting the seeds for future prosperity,'' the governor said. ``We are positioning as many people and businesses as possible to survive the national recession, and then thrive once the inevitable recovery begins.''

Republicans have criticized Corzine's leadership on economic issues, saying the former Goldman Sachs chairman did not react quickly enough when the financial markets started to unravel.

Corzine highlighted the economic assistance and recovery measures he proposed in October, many of which have become law. He said those actions have put New Jersey at the forefront in dealing with the historic financial crisis.

He also said that New Jersey's mortgage foreclosure prevention program is recognized as a national model for other states.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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