This press conference, held in district 1 where state Sen. Nicholas Asselta is in a re-election tussle with challenger Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, featured Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, Asselta and his running mates, Michael J. Donohue and Norris Clark.
They say they’re against the leasing of state assets, but at the very least the GOP want to know more. "I call on the governor to release the details of his plan," said Lance.
In June, Gov. Jon Corzine persuaded the Legislature to include a feel-out provision to study the feasibility of asset monetization, including the possible leasing of toll roads. Like other Republicans, Asselta flat out voted against the budget in the Senate, including what he calls a "blank check" for the governor’s asset monetization study.
In the Assembly, Van Drew voted against tabling an amendment sponsored by GOP Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck that would have nixed the governor’s request for the study. But his later vote for the budget as a whole – including the study – prompted Asselta out of his chair in protest.
The trouble with Asselta’s outrage, Van Drew maintains, is the senator voted for a 1999 bill enabling the state treasurer to examine asset monetization.
"It’s hypocrisy," said Van Drew when the Democratic legislator was contacted by phone for comment after the roadside press conference.
The Republicans don’t think so, despite what Dems see as a questionable record nationally on the issue of privatization. Reminded at the presser that it was President George W. Bush and the Republican Party that spear-headed a rebuilding effort in Iraq, which relies heavily on private contracts to companies like Halliburton and subcontractors like Blackwater for many services traditionally performed by the armed forces, Asselta stuck to New Jersey. He said he’s been against privatization of state assets since 1996.
"My position on privatization is not a new position," said the senator.
But Van Drew wouldn’t let him forget about the 1999 bill. "What they (the Republicans in 1999, including Asselta) voted for gave the state treasurer broad authority, and there was nothing in the bill that prevented (state assets) from being leased to a foreign company," said Van Drew, whose party’s leadership nevertheless has repeatedly defended what the GOP sees as Corzine’s lump sum scheme.
The presence of Lance and DeCroce down here underscored the Republicans’ commitment as a team to stand in the way of leasing or selling the state’s toll roads. "I can assure you, once we are in the majority there will be no plan to go forward with asset monetization," said DeCroce.
Leasing state toll roads remains unpopular not only in Cape May but throughout the state, which is why the GOP used this dramatic early juncture in the campaign haul to reiterate their opposition. According to a Rutgers University Eagleton Institute poll, from last month 61% of Democrats, 61% of Republicans, and 63% of independent voters oppose the idea.