NJ lawmakers scramble to find transportation cash
The TTF is the pool of money New Jersey uses to fund road and bridge improvement and repair projects, but it will go bankrupt by next year if money isn't found soon.
After conducting four public hearings around the state, Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) said he hopes legislators can formalize a plan soon. Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) is on record saying he would like it done by Christmas.
The question of how and where to find the money has yet to be answered.
A variety of funding options were discussed at the public hearings, including increasing the gas tax, extending the sales tax to gas purchases, dedicating online gambling revenue, raising car rental fees and fully dedicating surplus funds from the Motor Vehicle Commission.
"They should all be put on the table, but we have to be very candid. This solution is going to result from raising revenue from a new source," Wisniewski said. "By doing nothing we are essentially throwing in the towel and saying that we're going to go let our transportation network crumble around us."
A bill sponsored by Wisniewski would raise the petroleum gross receipts tax. He said that makes more sense than increasing the gas tax at the pump, but the average driver would see a nearly $300 a year hike in the gas taxes they pay.
"It raises approximately $1.25 billion dollars which would be sufficient to sustain a $2 billion a year annual capital program. We're still working on the details of exactly what a solution would look like. I would hope that we could consider my bill or some version like it in the very near future," Wisniewski explained.
Under the legislation, the revenue raised would be constitutionally dedicated to transportation funding.
Since taking office in 2010, Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly insisted he would not raise taxes, but in the October edition of Townsquare Media's "Ask the Governor" program, Christie did not rule out a gas tax hike.
"Everything is on the table for discussion, but I'm unwilling at this point in October to commit to anything on the air when I'm really going to be negotiating with members of the Legislature, both the Democratic and Republican leadership," Christie said. "What I've always said is that I'm willing to discuss everything with the Legislature, but there has to be give and take, so we'll see how it goes."
"Ask the Governor" host Eric Scott asked the governor if we should expect a quick resolution to the TTF funding woes.
"I would hope that we'd have it by the end of the year, certainly by the time the budget (address) comes in February," Christie responded. "Everything's on the table for me to consider and I've said all along that we'll have discussions with the Legislature and see if we can come to some kind of agreement on how we fund transportation projects going forward and how we deal with the other issues that surround the way we live and work here in this state."
During his first public appearance as Christie's new transportation commissioner on Oct. 16, Jamie Fox told a business-labor coalition in Atlantic City that a revenue enhancer is necessary to keep the TTF afloat.
While touring the state to highlight New Jersey's crumbling transportation infrastructure and the need to address it, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) did not embrace the idea of a gas tax increase, but he did repeatedly urge Christie to present a plan. Likewise, Prieto has not publicly advocated for a gas tax hike, but he did call for an honest discussion on the future of the TTF.
"What we've been doing by borrowing - we've been taxing our future generations and we're kicking the can down the road, and that's not acceptable. We need to figure out a solution," Prieto said in an emailed statement in October.
On Jan. 6, 2011, Christie unveiled a 5-year transportation funding plan. While making the announcement he pointed out that it did not include tax increases.
"The plan has no increased taxes, no new taxes, no change in tax structure and no new tolls," Christie said. "Anybody who is critical of this plan is someone who either doesn't understand it or who is just so committed to the idea that you must always raise taxes in this state that they would never like anything we did that didn't raise taxes."