Sweeney: Funding for TTF must be dedicated
Closed doors talks involving Gov. Chris Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) are continuing as the trio tries to strike a deal on a plan to replenish the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). All three agree that revenue raised through a gas tax hike or any other means must be dedicated exclusively for transportation projects.
"The most important thing is that we dedicate the funding. That it's constitutionally dedicated for only the purpose that it's being raised because that's where I think the public really is offended. They get tired of money being raised for a certain subject and then being utilized for a different one," Sweeney said.
Although an increase in the gas tax is not a sure bet for refunding the TTF, it is the most discussed solution. Without a new funding source, after the Fiscal Year 2015 budget cycle, every penny raised for the TTF will be used to pay down debt.
Sweeney called that a crisis.
"Whenever we have an opportunity to restrict large pots of money for the purpose that it was raised for - that's what we should be doing because then it actually forces government to deal with the realities of not having enough money," Sweeney said. "It's too easy for a governor to look in a pot and say, 'Well, we've got extra money over here. We'll put it over there.' Well, that's what's gotten us into this problem."
New Jersey has a long history of raiding funds. In 1995, Gov. Christie Todd Whitman balanced the state budget by taking money slated to fund the pension system for public employees.
Sweeney said he is proud to have sponsored a bill that constitutionally restricted the use of unemployment insurance funds because those funds used to be routinely raided, often times to fund health care for low-income residents. He noted that because of that bill unemployment insurance taxes will be reduced by $1 billion this year.