2014 ending with gas tax talk in Trenton
Without a funding solution the state's Transportation Trust Fund will be bankrupt by this time next year. The most talked about idea for replenishing the fund is increasing the gas tax. Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) and State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) sat down in their respective State House offices for separate interviews with Townsquare Media and both talked at length about the possibility of a gas tax hike.
"I was the first one to come out and talk about potentially using a gas tax because we have borrowed and kicked the can down the road for so many years that we're taxing our children and our grandchildren," Prieto said. "A lot of people thought I was crazy about talking about the 'T' word, but there has to be a real solution and if you do not get revenues, how do you pay for it?"
After the Fiscal Year 2015 budget cycle, every penny raised for the TTF will be used to pay down debt, Prieto explained. He said the needs are not going to go away. Our roads, bridges and tunnels need repair and improvement and new projects create jobs.
"Another big plus is we're the second lowest in gas taxes in the nation. Not that we want to go to number-one, but it gives us a cushion," Prieto said.
Asked if there's any other way to fund the TTF, Prieto said borrowing more would be the only other possibility he believes would work.
Both Prieto and Sweeney said regardless of how the revenue is raised, all of the money must be dedicated solely to the TTF. The lawmakers called for doubling the amount of money counties and towns get for their transportation needs, to about $400 million.
"Everyone says do you want to raise this tax or that tax? The answer is no. Do you want to improve your commute? The answer is yes," Sweeney said. "New Jersey has just been reported as having the longest commute times in the country. That's our time. That's time that we can give back to our families."
The people of New Jersey are not going to be receptive to any tax increase, Sweeney conceded, but he said all roads in the state are funded through taxes at the state, county and local levels.
Asked if the TTF can be funded without some type of tax increase, Sweeney said there actually are a few alternatives, but he declined to talk about them and said he wants to wait until a deal can be hammered out amongst he, Prieto and Gov. Chris Christie.
"The bottom line is it's going to cost money," Sweeney said.