We've been hearing about transportation infrastructure for many years now in the Garden State. It was just eight years ago that Governor Chris Christie was pushing to raise the gas tax while he was reportedly being vetted for the VP slot on Donald Trump's ticket.

The first attempt failed and Christie punished the construction industry by halting all road projects. That punitive measure may have been part of the reason that the legislature then jumped to raise the tax quickly after the short-lived taxpayer victory.

Chris Christie announces he is dropping out of the race during a town hall event in Windham, NH
Chris Christie announces he is dropping out of the race during a town hall event in Windham, NH (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

At the time in 2016, NJ roads were given a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Five full years later, after the taxes were raised and billions borrowed, the rating stayed the same, D+.

The challenge that New Jersey faces is that many of our roads and bridges are at the "end of their life". The quote is specific to the 29 bridges spanning the 8 miles between Newark and Jersey City as the Turnpike Authority focuses on rebuilding that section.

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As I've discussed previously, we have a transportation infrastructure crisis with more than 2500 of our 7600+ bridges needing repairs, with 442 considered "structurally deficient".

We are at a crossroads in our state. Taxpayers are fed up and New Jersey leads the nation in outmigration with more than 3.8 billion in adjusted gross income leaving in 2020-2021 for lower tax states.

We have more than $200 billion in debt that we are servicing annually. We have $175 billion in unfunded future pension and health liabilities for government workers.

So, we're bleeding taxpayers, companies are moving, the debt is crushing and we can't afford to pay for the promises made to government employees. Yet the spending from Trenton continues. Not toward making NJ infrastructure better, but political special interests and gimmicks.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, in the central chair on the dais, moderates debate over legislation overhauling the state’s open records in Trenton, N.J., Monday, May 13, 2024. Over jeers of “shame” shouted from the gallery, state lawmakers passed legislation to overhaul the state's open public records law despite objections from civil rights groups and the state's press association. The Associated Press signed onto a letter by the state's press association urging the bill to be rejected. (AP Photo/Mike Catalini)
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, in the central chair on the dais, moderates debate over legislation overhauling the state’s open records in Trenton, N.J., Monday, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Catalini)

A billion to Rutgers, while many staff members make nearly a million dollars a year.

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More than a billion to Newark schools and the kids can't read or perform math at grade level.

Another couple billion in the "property tax relief fund" with the average real estate tax bill nearing $10 thousand and the average "relief" check of just $700.

Here's a better plan. Let's line-item veto the billion to Rutgers and force the school to either live within the budget of $4.1 billion from just a few years ago, or force them to monetize assets and cut salaries.

Then we need to open up Newark to new charter schools to accept the current 4,000 kids on a waitlist and add many more, lowering the class size in the public schools and putting the state in control of the district to hold schools accountable for increasing the percentage of kids who can read and perform basic math.

Of course, this comes with tax incentives to bring in business and the hiring of police officers to patrol every street in every community. Striking bail reform down will also go a long way to cleaning up the crime-ridden streets that also hinder economic and social development.

Close-up. Arrested man handcuffed
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We need to line-item veto future pension payments until the NJEA concedes to a restructuring of retirement benefits in the form of Act 10 in Wisconsin which reversed years of debt and helped create a budget surplus.

Additionally, teacher salaries actually went up. 69% percent of the $33 billion collected in property taxes every year is spent on the education system. If we can lower that cost, there will be a direct result of lower property taxes. In other words, end the gimmick of the relief fund and actually reduce taxes for everyone.

If we re-allocate the billion from Rutgers and 2 billion from the relief fund in 2026, we have more than enough to pay for the current allocation agreed upon with the reauthorization of the Transportation trust fund. Remember, there's another billion-plus in the relief fund for seniors, veterans, and those with disabilities so people in need won't be impacted.

Imagine a $3 billion investment in transportation and energy infrastructure in YEAR ONE? All with property taxes dropping. It's possible. It's doable. It's only a year and a half away from the voters deciding they truly want a dramatic change in how New Jersey is managed.

The choice is yours.

NJ schools with the worst attendance problems

These 30 schools had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism in the 2022-23 school year. Data is for the New Jersey Department of Education's annual NJ School Performance Reports.

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The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Spadea. Any opinions expressed are Bill's own.

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