Critics say he's ineffective, but Gov. Jon Corzine said he has a lot to show for his first two years in office.
In an interview on Wednesday, Corzine pointed out that his administration will shortly release its new school funding formula, while property tax growth has significantly slowed under his watch and rebates have been sent out. They've created an earned income tax credit, maintained a relatively low unemployment rate and helped shepherd in a syringe exchange program.
Soon, Corzine will come out with what may be his boldest move yet: the secret, controversial asset monetization plan to leverage toll roads to put much needed money in state coffers. (No, Corzine would not say how much tolls will rise).
"People are not looking at the big picture sometimes when they say I'm sitting here and doing nothing," said Corzine, who set the leadership bar high in his inaugural address with that trademark phrase: "Hold me accountable."
Even some Democrats were holding Corzine accountable in the lead up to this month's legislative elections, with some party officials grumbling that, by floating the idea of a monetization plan but not releasing details, Corzine had left his party's candidates in a tough political position, forcing those in competitive races to declare outright opposition.
But Corzine said that, given the options, monetization was the way to go, and that politicians need to distance themselves from campaign rhetoric to weigh it against, say, a hike in the gasoline tax.
"A lot of them declared opposition to things they don't know what they're declaring opposition to," said Corzine. "So hopefully, if they're good representatives to the people they'll stand back and weigh and balance what it actually is as opposed to what they declared themselves against, and look at what are the alternatives."
When Corzine was first elected as governor, a common refrain was that he wouldn't be corrupt because he was already rich. But Corzine critics have wielded the Governor's wealth against him, charging that he's used it to push policy instead of seeking consensus, and to make potential political problems disappear — a charge Corzine vehemently denies.
"Which problems did I make go away?," asked Corzine. "I don't think that because I have been blessed that I've been able to make problems go away. I think it's given me a chance to have a voice, but I don't think it's made one wit of difference, and in many instances I think it's caused problems rather than solve them."
It's also easy to see the defeat of the stem cell ballot initiative – championed by Corzine with $150,000 in publicity personally paid for by him – as a rebuke to his leadership.
"I got a bruise on it, but I think people were speaking to their concerns about finances of the state, and there wasn't an organized effort to get Democratic core voters out who would have been supportive," said Corzine.
Corzine even gave conservative Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and pro-life leader Marie Tasy a lot of credit for the measure's defeat. But more than anything, Corzine said, it's hard to get a progressive measure passed when Democratic bastions had few competitive races and thus low voter turnout. Corzine said that he expected more support for the measure in Republican districts and didn't know the voter turnout in Hudson and Essex Counties would be so low.
"You can't win with progressive policies in nine-and-a-half percent turnout in Hudson and 16 percent in Essex," said Corzine. "…You've got to get your voters out, and that would have taken, by the way, not a $400,000 or $500,000 exercise, but maybe a $10 million exercise."