Assemblyman sues to stop proposed state buildings in Trenton

There’s a lawsuit to block a new government office building that’s about to go up in Trenton. Opponents don’t like the design or location. But what they really don’t like is the financing: $215 million in new debt from a bond issue pushed through without voter approval. One of the plaintiffs, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, joins Senior Correspondent David Cruz.

Cruz: Assemblyman, I think most towns would welcome two new buildings as far as economic development. Isn’t that good news for Trenton?

Gusciora: Well, we actually want more economic development, and any urban planner will tell you if you’re going to do some construction, particularly $250 million worth, it should be in a transit center or in a downtown economic area. The governor’s rushed, eleventh hour plan does neither. He just simply tears down three state buildings and then places them outside the economic development area, and outside the transit area. If anyone’s been to New Brunswick, you’d realize that over the last 20 years, the city has come up around the transit area and Trenton, as our capital city deserves so much more than just two buildings placed haphazardly outside of any economic area that will help revitalize the city.

Cruz: Now you’re a part of a group that’s suing to stop this. I want to get to that in a minute, but you bring up an important issue that a lot of capital cities have to deal with, right? I mean, not only are these buildings not where they need to be in terms of encouraging mass transit and so on, but capital cities always suffer from an abundance of buildings that end up paying no taxes, right?

Gusciora: Absolutely. These buildings will be on tax exempt property. They’ll be outside the transit area. They’ll be inconvenient for state workers to take mass transit options to work. And it really doesn’t help the downtown Trenton area in terms of economic growth.

Cruz: But the administration says they’re going to spur economic activity. Isn’t that good?

Gusciora: How do you spur economic activity outside of the economic development area of a city? This is a governor that’s neglected the city of Trenton. He’s been an absentee landlord. In the eleventh hour, he’s proposed these two buildings and then a bridge to nowhere across Route 29 to the canal path. I think the capital city deserves so much more. But also the taxpayers of New Jersey deserve a return on their investment and this would really spur a lot more growth and a lot more economic development if it was done with an urban planner, or with some idea or vision for the capital city, which we deserve.

Cruz: Is there some other place where these buildings could go that might make more sense, economic development wise?

Gusciora: Absolutely. They should be in the downtown business area where state workers would then venture out for lunch.

Cruz: That’s what I mean. Is there room downtown in the central business district for two buildings like this?

Gusciora: Absolutely. There’s a whole transit area that’s been left undeveloped and so many more commercial developers would come in if we had a building project of that size. We actually want more development for the city of Trenton. The city of Trenton deserves a well-planned capital city, not something that’s just rushed at the eleventh hour.

Cruz: Tell me about this suit. You’re part of a group that is suing on what grounds?

Gusciora: Well, the residents of the state of New Jersey are going to be responsible to retire the bonds to build these buildings, but yet have no voter input. The constitution requires that bonding authority be approved by voters. Instead the governor does a flim-flam shell game by bonding the money …

Cruz: Through the Economic Development Authority?

Gusciora: … the Economic Development Authority.

Cruz: Tell me about this commission, I have about 30 seconds. This is sort of like a star chamber. They meet almost in secret and they move these issues through really quickly and it’s made up of a few insiders. Tell me about that group if you would really quickly.

Gusciora: Well, a month ago they voted 7-0 to put the plan on hold for the incoming Murphy administration. I guess when they got back to their offices, the governor told them to go back and re-vote. The chairman told concerned citizens that they should hurry up with their testimony because they were anxious to rubber stamp the governor’s will. This is no way for transparency. This is not a plan that is befitting the capital of New Jersey.