Although he showed no additional gray hair or other typical signs of added wisdom (or anxiety), Corzine seemed more composed than when he stood as the center of attention during the after-election Schuetzen Park Democratic rally in November, 1999.
"That was my first experience in Hudson County politics," the more-assured Corzine told the staff of the Hudson Reporter newspaper group on May 19, during a brief stop in Hoboken.
Corzine, who defeated Republican Bob Franks in the 2000 election for U.S. Senate, made his way through this part of the state in order to - as he said - meet the people and see for himself what's going on. He made no mention of the fact that Franks has again reemerged as a major opponent to Democrats, and could well be the next Republican candidate to face off against Democrat Jim McGreevey for governor this November.
In a question and answer period that lasted about an hour, Corzine reiterated some of the issues upon which he ran for office, updating them to reflect the new Republican presidential administration and the lessons he has learned about how things get done inside the Washington D.C. beltway.
As junior senator from the state, he said he has to keep in touch with national and local issues, and came around to get schooled on the issues.
"No one understands until they are involved," he said.
Transportation an important issue
One the issues of particular concern was the Hudson Bergen rail line, a project he would like to keep moving forward. The line starts in Bayonne and will ultimately extend into Bergen County.
Corzine's plans might include finding funding to continue the light rail and the Secaucus Rail Transfer station, possibly extending the connection from one to the other. He said this could involve tunnel under the Palisades in Weehawken for connection with Penn Station in New York City.
On another matter, Corzine questioned the Pres. George Bush's proposed $1.35 trillion tax cut, saying it left little room for growth, and could hamper investments in schools - affecting individual students and class sizes. Corzine also renewed his objection to vouchers, claiming this would hurt urban schools - which the government should be investing in. Vouchers, he said, watered down the quality of urban schools by encouraging better students to leave, while the public schools got stuck with the more troublesome students. He said he had no problem with charter schools.
Corzine also noted some concern over increasing standardized testing, claiming that focus shifts from educating kids to teaching kids to pass a particular test. He also questioned how much more information additional tests can supply.
"When these tests are poorly implemented, they can be a problem," he said. "And how many tests do you need to tell you that students in Jersey City are doing more poorly than students in more affluent communities? Unless you fully fund Head Start and provide them with adequate health care, kids in urban districts are going to have a hard time."
Changes in college loans proposed by President Bush also won no praise from Corzine, although the junior senator did approve of legislation by his Democratic colleague, Sen. Robert Torricelli, that would allow a $5,000 tax deduction for a family sending a student to college. Corzine also said students should be able to deduct interest paid on student loans from their taxes for the entire lenghth of the loan. Under current law, a person can only make such deductions for the first 60 months.
Democrats unlikely to pass much
Corzine, in responding to questions, also said the passage of a universal health care program under the current administration is unlikely, but said Congress might be able to make small but meaningful changes.
The situation has changed somewhat thanks to the defection of Sen. James Jeffords from the Republican Party. Still, Corzine will likely be frustrated on some issues. But he said some areas of agreement could involve things like funds for redevelopment of Brownfield sites - land areas that have been contaminated or were perceived to be contaminated by past manufacturing. While Republicans ended up putting aside less than what Democrats proposed in this area, Corzine said some money has been allocated to help Brownfield sites.
Congress, however, has stronger support for clean air initiatives, particular because of health concerns.
Yet Corzine raised more grave concerns about President Bush's energy plan - as outlined earlier in May - saying that many parts of it can be implemented without Congressional approval.
"When it comes to needing appropriations for something, then we will have a say," he said.
Improving voting practices in order to avoid the problems that occurred in Florida during last year's presidential election seems to be something both parties desire, Corzine said.
Likes his role as senator
In looking over his first year and half in office, Corzine admitted some things frustrate him, but overall, he liked being in office.
"I like what I'm doing a lot, and I do like people," he said. "In the end, this is job is all about people."
Corzine said many of the skills he learned in business apply to what he does as a senator, and that some of the longer-range projects he initiated as a businessman are similar to the way Congress works.
"It took us four years to prepare for Goldman Sachs to go public," Corzine said, talking about his role as a stock company executive. "We had to be patient. This is the same temperament I have to have in the Senate."
In viewing the economy from this business background, Corzine said he had a more or less positive outlook. He said that the change from a "too rapid growth" may feel bad to the general public, but he said wise fiscal management by the government would help the country recover.
Corzine reiterated his opposition to a shift that would allow individuals to invest their Social Security money rather than giving it to the government. But he also said the government should have "a hands off" approach to Social Security, keeping the money collected in a trust fund rather than using it to balance the budget.
"We should treat this as we would other pension funds," he said, predicting that a proper approach would keep Social Security solvent through the year 2075.
Touching an issue that has been the center of conflict in New Jersey, Corzine said he supported a ban on racial profiling. While New Jersey had been the focus of media attention due to problems along the New Jersey Turnpike, Corzine said it is a national issue, and one that needs to be addressed.
Corzine introduces Child Passenger Safety Act
Sen. Jon Corzine introduced on May 29 legislation to ensure children are adequately restrained and protected while riding in cars. This would encourages states to enact laws to make certain children up to age eight are properly secured in a child car safety seat or booster seat.
"No child should be placed at risk by a simple trip to the local supermarket," Corzine said, noting that statistics show that 1,800 children under the age of 14 die in motor vehicle crashes yearly and more than 274,000 are injured.
From 1994 to 1998, 514 New Jersey children under 14 were killed as occupants of motor vehicles, according to data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.
According to a recent study done by the non-profit National Safe Kids Campaign, states have done too little to protect child passengers. This group rated New Jersey as "dead last" in this regard. New Jersey's seat belt law does not provide any special protection for children five and older riding in the back seat of a motor vehicle.
Corzine's legislation sets a sliding scale of penalties if tougher child safety laws are not enacted in a state. Beginning on Oct. 1, 2004, the federal Secretary of Transportation would transfer 4 percent of federal highway funds to a state to a new child passenger safety education program, if a state has not enacted a more comprehensive law. The percentage of funds earmarked for this education program increases to 6, 8 and 10 percent in each of the following years if no law has been enacted.