Some toll hike revenues to be escrowed for future NJ Transit help
More than half the money from the recent toll hikes that had been budgeted to be directed to New Jersey Transit won’t be – at least not right now.
Revenue from the toll hikes was going to including $375 million for NJ Transit’s operating budget this coming year, but Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Mercer, the Assembly transportation committee chairman, cited a document showing it would be reduced to $169 million.
Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the balance, or $206 million, would be put into escrow for now – available next year, seemingly on top of $525 million from the toll hikes that was already planned to be transferred then.
“The Turnpike/Parkway folks will argue you shouldn’t use toll revenue to subsidize transit,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “Well, if I don’t then I’m not going to be able to manage the capacity on these roads.”
Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso said the toll hike could have shrunk, especially since some of the proceeds are going into escrow and gas taxes rise by 9.3 cents a gallon on Oct. 1.
“We could really have given it back to the residents who are really hurting, but the horse is out of the barn, as they say,” DiMaso said.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the gas tax hike needs to be put into proper context. Even once raised, she said the Eastern Transportation Coalition finds the average New Jersey motorist will spend $269 in a year in state gas taxes and $98 in federal.
“That is $30.59 per month,” she said. “I would ask you just for a moment to compare that investment to your cell phone bill or your cable television bill.”
Gutierrez-Scaccetti indicated that traffic in New Jersey has almost fully rebounded from its levels after coronavirus stay-at-home orders were issued in March. She said traffic on the state highway system bottomed out on March 29 at 25% of normal vehicle miles traveled.
“Today traffic recovery is at virtually 100% of pre-COVID levels,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “It has fluctuated between a high 90% to over 100% range in July and August, with the exception of only three days.”
Last week, explaining why the gas tax will rise 9.3 cents a gallon on Oct. 1 to hit revenue targets, Treasury Department officials said they projected that traffic will remain 16% below pre-COVID levels through December and down 12.5% through next June.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget includes a $1 surcharge on motor vehicle registrations, with the resulting more than $5 million in revenue being used for State Police salaries. Motor Vehicle Commission chief Sue Fulton said none of that revenue would stay in her agency.
“I don’t have a ton of detail on the need that’s driving that additional dollar, but it is for State Police need,” Fulton said.
Fulton said the MVC expects to generate about $1.5 billion in the coming year in fees and will spend about one-third of that on its own operations. The rest is collected for other agencies or goes to the general state budget.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.