23-cent gas-tax hike takes first step in Senate … again
A Senate committee voted Friday to advance a Transportation Trust Fund plan that’s at odds with Gov. Chris Christie, putting the Legislature and the issue right back where it was five weeks ago.
Christie is on board with a 23-cent per gallon hike in the gas tax, so long as the $1.2 billion it would cost drivers is more than offset by a broad-based tax cut, such as a sales-tax reduction. But the bill advanced Friday includes a blend of different tax cuts that’s smaller and more targeted.
The bill was endorsed by the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee by the same margin as an earlier incarnation of the plan – 8-4 with one vote to abstain. The full Senate meets Monday for a voting session, but the bill isn’t currently on the agenda, though that’s subject to change.
“The goal would be to post it for a vote as soon as we have the 27 votes,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen.
A bill would need 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly to overcome a Christie veto. Getting to that margin the first time doesn’t ensure the same votes would be cast a second time, once the governor rejects a bill if he doesn’t like it.
Sarlo said the vote “could be as early as Monday.”
“It depends what we have,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “We’re working the votes now.”
“I’m confident that we’re going to get there,” Sarlo said. “I know we have some work in the Assembly, on some of the Assembly Republicans. They’re still short some members. But today we took a step in the right direction.”
Sarlo said the Senate is “pretty darn close” to having a veto-proof majority.
“We’re going to easily get 25 votes, 25, 26 votes easily. But we need to send a strong message that we’re serious on a 27-vote override,” Sarlo said.
“This is not an easy vote. Any time you have to raise a tax, it’s not an easy vote. None of us are taking this lightly. And that’s why it’s a difficult process. Any time you have to vote on a user fee or a tax, it’s a difficult vote,” Sarlo said. “And for those out there like 101.5 and others who just saying that this is irresponsible, this is not being, we’re not being irresponsible here. We have an obligation. We have an obligation and we have a – to the people of New Jersey to invest in this infrastructure.”
The proposal includes around $900 million in tax cuts, once fully phased in, designed to help the economy and attract votes. It includes phasing out the estate tax, increasing the amount of retirement income exempt from taxes, raising a tax credit for the working poor, creating a $3,000 tax exemption for veterans and allowing commuters to deduct their gas taxes from their taxable income.
Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, attempted to offer a substitute for the bill that wouldn’t include an increase in the gas tax. None of the other committee members seconded her motion, and Democrats then voted to table the motion. One Republican voted against the Democrats’ move to table Beck’s substitute, while three voted to abstain.
“Here we are at a Friday in July considering virtually the same proposal that was before us in June and rejected by our residents with enormous rage,” Beck said.
“We are one of the highest-taxed states in the nation, and the answer is clearly not higher taxes,” Beck said.
From the earlier Senate committee vote: