NJ transportation funding plan coming soon, says lawmakers
Will this be the year that state lawmakers finally solve New Jersey's transportation funding crisis?
It's been known for years in New Jersey's political circles that the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is on pace to run out of money for capital projects on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Lawmakers have repeatedly claimed that a plan to replenish the fund was coming, but a plan has yet to be revealed.
It looks like we may finally be getting somewhere though.
Last week, top Democrats in the Legislature said a funding solution announcement really is imminent now.
State Sen. President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto said they continue to work together on a TTF plan, and they have been for some time.
When asked when the pair would go public with their proposal, Sweeney said the end is near.
"I'm going to sit down with him (Prieto) because we really are very close," said Sweeney (D-Thorofare). "I know everyone keeps saying it, but we really are."
The final sticking point, according to Sweeney and Prieto, is how much funding would be done through borrowing and how much the state would pay.
Any plan would require the agreement of Gov. Chris Christie.
"It really takes three to tango on this one," said Prieto (D-Secaucus).
There is another issue. Christie is running for president and is not likely to agree to a gas tax increase, which Prieto and Sweeney admitted is almost sure to be included in their plan.
"One of the biggest concerns I have is he (Christie) has signed a pledge of no taxes. We don't want taxes either, but we can't ignore the fact that you actually have to fix the roads and bridges and it's going to cost something somewhere," Sweeney said. "No one is going to fix the bridges with a wand. We really, truly believe we need a $2 billion (a year) transportation plan."
Several times in the recent past, the governor has said everything would be on the table and he'd listen to any ideas that were presented to him, but if they included tax increases there would also have to be "tax fairness." Most people took that to mean there would have to be offsetting tax cuts.
Prieto said he's prepared to agree to a compromise.
"I've made the difficult call for a gas tax increase to fund transportation because it's the right thing to do for our state," Prieto said. "No one wants to pay more at the pump, but the alternative is much more costly and I support coupling it with ideas such as phasing out New Jersey's estate tax to match the national level, and finding ways to exempt retirement income from the income tax. I've been ready to compromise. Let's get it done."
Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.