Besides Rush, there wasn’t a friendly face in the house

GREG BEAN

You have to give Gov. Jon Corzine credit for walking into the lion’s den. Either he just doesn’t care that so many people are furious with him, or he feels safe because of the New Jersey State Police security detail that protects him wherever he goes.

Corzine, as you probably know by now, is at the end of his 21-county townmeeting swing through the state – and he recently had meetings in Toms River in Ocean County and Marlboro in Monmouth County. Residents of those counties, along with Middlesex, would bear the brunt of any toll hikes proposed by the governor, since the longest stretches of all of the state’s toll roads are in those counties.

Lots of people turned out at his town meetings and let’s just say his reception wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. In fact, it was downright contentious.

In Marlboro on Feb. 4, for example, more than 1,000 people turned up for the meeting at Marlboro High School and almost all of them came with an attitude. My favorite was the guy dressed up in a pig costume, which pretty much summed up the majority of the crowd’s opinion of the gov’s baconheaded proposal.

It was a tough crowd in Marlboro, and Corzine showed either bravery or incredible ignorance by showing himself in public there. About the only place in the county with a tougher crowd would have been Manalapan, which he wisely avoided.

In Manalapan, local politics is so nasty that those involved are rumored to eat their own young, and the crowd that turns up at Township Committee meetings isn’t significantlymore civilized. If Corzine held a town meeting there all that would be left of him at the end would be a pile of bones and gristle.

It wasn’t that bad in Marlboro, but it wasn’t pretty. Apparently, a lot of people in the audience had just watched the movie “ThereWill Be Blood” beforemotoring over to the high school for the town meeting. Forget civilized questions about his tollhike plan, those folks wanted to give the governor a piece of their mind and a tongue-lashing.

According to Rebecca Morton, a reporter for Greater Media’s publication the News Transcript, the mood was tense from the get-go when U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) very possibly committed public career suicide by endorsing Corzine’s plan as he introduced the governor.

“There is no question that this will hit Monmouth County people hard,”Holt said, but that was about all he got out before he was drowned out by booing and catcalls from the audience.

Why Holt, who claims to represent the best interests of his constituents, would sell them out in this fashion is mysterious. Maybe he was acting out of party or personal loyalty. Maybe he was suffering low blood sugar, bipolar disorder, or some other condition that can be controlled by prescription medication.

If it was the former, then we need to boot Holt out of office at the first available opportunity.

If it was the latter, I hope he makes an appointment with the doctor. If her treatment goes well, the physician who is currently treating Britney Spears for mental instability ought to have an opening on his schedule before too long.

Without treatment, it looks like Rush will continue to be a danger to himself (political careerwise) and others (the taxpayers). It’s just too bad we can’t arrange an intervention or, failing that, involuntary commitment.

Corzine and his credibility, meanwhile, are toast.

The guy was a successful businessman before entering the political arena and he got elected by promising to use his considerable expertise in the private sector to fix the state’s budget and lower taxes.

He was in office about 121/2 seconds before he started backtracking from that promise and at this point he’s virtually thrown up his hands in defeat.

Faced with over $32 billion in debt and a budget shortfall of between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion every year, he’s admitted recently that there’s no way the Legislature will ever go along with doing what needs to be done.

They won’t make significant cuts in staff or programs because making those cuts would be unpopular. And taxes are already so high most of us walk around all day with steam coming from our ears.

Raise taxes much more and Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion, will be surrounded some dark and stormy night by guys and gals wearing cowls, carrying pitchforks and waving torches as they howl, “GIVE US THE MONSTER!!”

So all that’s left to try is the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, what Corzine calls “asset monetization.” He wants to increase the tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway by 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022.

In other words, a trip on the turnpike that currently costs you $1.21 would cost you $12.50 in 25 years, according to our story in the News Transcript.

Corzine promises that a lot of the money from the increased tolls would be reinvested in the counties it came from, but judging from the track record of lies and broken promises we’ve had from our representatives in Trenton over the years, nobody believes him.

And in all my years of covering local and state politics, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any goofy proposal as unpopular as the one Corzine was touting at these town meetings. In Marlboro, for example, very few people came out to ask an actual question. Most came out to give the governor a piece of their mind, and the line of people waiting to share their negative opinions was so long that there were still a lot of unhappy residents waiting to speak when the governor’s people ended things at about 9 p.m. According to Morton, a lot of those people were still grumbling as Corzine left the podium (he got boos when he came in). There was also yelling, apparently lots of it.

If you were one of those unhappy people, I don’t know what to tell you. As I write this, there were no more meetings scheduled around here after Feb. 10 in East Brunswick. You can always call Corzine at his office at (609) 292-6000. And you can tell Rush Holt what you think at his New Jersey office (609) 292-600, or in Washington, D.C., at (202) 225-5801.

Holt’s been acting so unstable lately, though, that he might not feel like taking your call.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.