Gas tax hike talks have not died, according to NJ lawmakers
Negotiations to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), possibly with an increase in the gas tax, have not broken off despite published reports to the contrary, according to leaders in the General Assembly. They said the talks continue, but politics is at play and that could stall a gas tax hike for the time being.
"I don't want to say they (negotiations) have died. They've cooled down a little bit," said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus). "Taxes - that is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Ask anybody, 'Do you want your taxes raised?' Nobody's going to say they want taxes raised."
The top Republican in the Assembly agreed that talks to fund the TTF were continuing. Assembly GOP Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said sometimes there are slow periods in negotiations and sometimes there are periods where there's rapid movement. TTF talks are somewhere in the middle he explained.
"I think negotiations are moving along," Bramnick said. "We need tax fairness. If we're going to raise a gas tax I think the people of New Jersey would like to see other taxes reduced."
All 80 seats in the Assembly are up for grabs in this November's elections. Prieto and Bramnick both acknowledged fear of voter backlash could have some members skittish about voting in favor of a gas tax hike until after Election Day.
"I think there are probably legislators who are afraid to vote for any type of increase whatsoever on taxes and I suspect that might be playing a role," Bramnick said.
Another factor at play could be the fact that Gov. Chris Christie recently said the TTF was not in crisis mode.
"I'm hopeful that the Senate president and the speaker and I will be able to come to a resolution sooner rather than later, but, you know, again, it's not a crisis at the moment, because we're funded pretty well now," said Christie in the February edition of Townsquare Media's "'Ask the Governor" program.
As the governor mulls a run for president in 2016, many insiders said he would not want to sign a gas tax increase into law right before throwing his hat in the ring.