Corzine returns to Trenton

Posted: May 31, 2007

TRENTON - Gov. Corzine is back in the building.

Or at least he was.

Corzine yesterday returned to the Statehouse for the first time since a serious April 12 highway accident to talk with legislative leaders about the state budget.

"It's good to be back to work," he told a throng of reporters waiting for him as he emerged, on forearm crutches, from the governor's office around midday. "It's good to be back here."

For nearly a month after the accident - which landed Corzine in intensive care and on a ventilator with a snapped left femur, 11 broken ribs, and a fractured breastbone and collarbone - Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) stood in as governor. Corzine took back the reins of state government May 7, but has been working from Drumthwacket, the governor's official residence in Princeton, ever since.

Aides yesterday said the governor would remain based at the mansion, which has been specially outfitted to accommodate his physical therapy. But they said the governor, who at first found the jostling associated with driving unbearable, would be attending meetings in Trenton more frequently.

Yesterday's visit started at 9 a.m., when Corzine, looking tanned and healthy, pulled up in a black van he personally bought for transportation during his rehabilitation.

Climbing the stairs of the Statehouse on his crutches relatively effortlessly, he made his way to his office, where staff lined up to meet him.

"How are we doing?" he asked. "Good to see you all."

Corzine said he was working on his picks for the Supreme Court. He said he hoped to name a new state Supreme Court justice by Monday to replace Chief Justice James R. Zazzali, who will be forced to retire June 17 when he turns 70. Corzine also must choose which of the justices will lead the panel when Zazzali steps down. Both nominations must be confirmed by the state Senate.

The main reason for Corzine being in Trenton yesterday was to meet with Codey, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D., Camden), and other legislative leaders on his proposed $33 billion budget.

Emerging from their meeting, legislative leaders vowed there would be no repeat of last year, when an impasse over the one-penny sales-tax increase pushed by Corzine, a fellow Democrat, caused them to blow the June 30 constitutional deadline to enact a budget. A more than weeklong shutdown of government services resulted.

This year, majority Democratic lawmakers have few beefs with Corzine's budget, which contains no tax increases and provides billion of dollars in rebates for homeowners, who pay the highest property taxes in the nation. Legislative leaders said they hoped to have a spending plan completed by mid-June.

"We have a commitment to put this baby to bed early," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D., Mercer).

Legislators and Corzine said the main outstanding issue is how much the state will provide to hospitals to help them pay for uninsured patients. Also unresolved is how much aid the state should give to municipalities.

But, Codey added, "we're reasonably close and we're going to continue working for the next week or so and hopefully wrap it up."

Corzine was the last to emerge from the roughly 90-minute meeting in his office. About 12:30 p.m., he stopped briefly to answer reporters' questions before pressing through the crowd of cameras toward the van waiting out front to take him back to Drumthwacket.

He didn't make it very far before running into another crowd - this one made up of fourth graders from Randolph who were taking a Statehouse tour. They couldn't believe their luck.

As network TV cameras rolled, the governor posed for pictures with the excited students, who got a little more excited when they heard his parting words.

"I bet if you watch the 6 o'clock news," Corzine told them before leaving the Statehouse, "you'll see yourself on it."


Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 609-989-8990 or jmoroz@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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