Christie: All gas-tax supporters won their primaries Tuesday
SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Gov. Chris Christie’s tour of road construction that’s being paid for through the expanded Transportation Trust Fund included a new wrinkle Thursday – noting no lawmakers who voted to hike New Jersey’s gas tax lost their primaries Tuesday.
“While there was a lot of tumult in some limited areas about our decision to fund the TTF the way we did, I think the primary election results from Tuesday show that the people who supported the gas tax increase were returned to office,” Christie said.
“Because I think the people in New Jersey said their priority was to get our infrastructure even better than it is now and to make sure we do it and pay for it in a way that is responsible for the future and that those funds are available to be able to be spent,” he said.
Technically, the candidates won renomination. The election to return them to office will be in November. But for candidates in solidly Republican districts who voted for the gas tax – which was paired with a series of tax cuts – the bigger risk was losing the June primary.
Sen. Steve Oroho, the plan sponsor, won with 74 percent of the vote against a candidate, William Hayden, whose ballot slogan was "Remember the Gas Tax." Assemblywoman Bettylou DeCroce survived a primary challenge from Morris County Freeholder Hank Lyon fueled by her gas-tax vote.
A union-tied PAC called Stronger Foundations spent $275,100 in support of them.
Christie has been touring the state this spring to tout the additional transportation projects being funded through the higher gas tax. His stop outside Dayton Toyota was his fourth in five weeks, this time to highlight a $4.5 million project to repave 5 miles of Route 130 in southern Middlesex County.
“We know that this is making commuters’ lives easier and better, safer. And it’s why we pushed so hard to get the Transportation Trust Fund done and done in a responsible way,” Christie said.
The state now spends $2 billion a year on bridge, road and rail projects, up from $1.6 billion in recent years, not counting federal matching funds.
Christie said the construction plan for the fiscal year that starts in July will be submitted to the Legislature today or Monday so it can be approved this month.
“So that there will be an uninterrupted flow of infrastructure money being spent here in the state, from the time we approved the supplemental earlier this spring through to the end of the next fiscal year,” Christie said.
The new Capital Program Approval Committee, ridiculed by some as a "pork panel," that is supposed to sign off on the annual construction plan still hasn’t been organized. A bill, S3075, is pending that would delay its creation until the 2019 state budget but hasn’t advanced since March.
Christie said he’s puzzled by stories asking how New Jersey will fund its infrastructure, noting the TTF is now 25 percent larger than ever, funded for three years longer than past plans and less reliant on debt than in recent years.
“The infrastructure conversation should be over,” Christie said. “And believe me, no matter who the next governor is, whether it’s Phil Murphy or Kim Guadagno, they’re not going to increase the Transportation Trust Fund. I guarantee you, they won’t go near it.”
Though annual spending from the Transportation Trust Fund was increased by $400 million, half of that is committed to increasing local aid grants to counties and municipalities.
The other half gets split between the Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit.
It’s not yet clear how the state will pay for its portion of the Gateway Program, a series of projects intended to preserve and expand the Northeast Corridor rail service between New Jersey and New York. The federal government is supposed to pay for half of the estimated $20 billion program, with the two states and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey covering the other half.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Jersey’s infrastructure a D+ grade in a report card last year, issued before the state raised the gas tax and increased road and rail spending. That included poor and mediocre marks for its drinking water, waste water, parks and levees.