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Star-Ledger - "GOP senator notes concerns over use of toll hike money"

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Star-Ledger - "GOP senator notes concerns over use of toll hike money"

A Republican state lawmaker said yesterday he is "deeply concerned" that a plan to raise tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway could violate state law.

The plan calls for using the increased revenues to fund $11 billion in transportation projects, including highway expansion and a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) said state law prohibits using Turnpike and Parkway toll revenue for anything other than highway projects or "non-highway transportation projects on an interim basis."

"It is obvious that a multibillion-dollar trans-Hudson rail tunnel is neither a highway project nor an interim project," Lance said. "This provision in the statute is a prime example of why the Senate President and the Assembly Speaker need to convene legislative hearings on this toll hike proposal."

Gov. Jon Corzine said the plan has been "thoroughly" reviewed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the Attorney General's office, who have deemed it "legal and appropriate."

"I think Leonard is running for Congress," said Corzine, a Democrat, referring to Lance's campaign against Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender for the 7th District U.S. House seat.

Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri, chairman of the Turnpike Authority's board, said the proposal to direct toll money to the tunnel was vetted with lawyers.

"We believe as a matter of fact and a matter of law the Authority has the ability to invest in these kinds of projects, especially if it's going to relieve congestion on the Turnpike," Kolluri said.

Lance asked the administration to produce legal opinions backing up its position.

The plan, which would more than double tolls on the Turnpike and Parkway by 2012, was formally introduced Tuesday. After the authority holds three public hearings this month, Corzine can approve or veto the proposal. It does not need legislative approval.

Republicans are pushing for the Democrat-controlled Legislature to hold hearings anyway. Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said he will decide on that after the Turnpike Authority's hearings are complete.

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