Sweeney says NJ Transit funding plan coming within two weeks
Senate President Steve Sweeney in the next two weeks intends to propose a plan for funding NJ Transit that probably will include a proposed constitutional amendment to ensure the money is dedicated and not diverted.
Sweeney didn’t commit to a date for the announcement but said it will be “before the budget address.”
Gov. Phil Murphy is scheduled to make his budget speech to the Legislature on Feb. 25.
“I’m talking about ensuring whatever we do … is dedicated for that purpose because otherwise if you do anything different, you could always move the money around,” Sweeney told reporters after Monday’s Senate voting session.
“That’s why we’re looking at constitutionally protecting it,” he said. “Look, we need to invest in NJ Transit in a huge way. It’s a driver of our economy. And when it’s not working well, it hurts the economy.”
Sweeney declined to say what funding mechanism he will propose.
“Listen, it might not just be one source, also. Realize that there could be a few ideas,” he said. “But what I’m saying is that money should be restricted for transportation because you’ve seen what’s happened in Transit. It’s been defunded for the last 20 years.”
Sweeney did say he does not support increasing the sales tax to 7%, as it had been before being cut to 6.625% as part of the bill that increased the gas tax in 2016. Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, sponsors a bill that would do that and dedicate the revenue to NJ Transit.
“I’m not doing the sales tax,” Sweeney said. “But there’s some ideas that we have.”
Sweeney also said that either through legislation or a constitutional amendment, he wants to stop NJ Transit from transferring capital funds into its operating budget. That has gone on for years and totals $460 million in the agency’s 2020 budget.
A transit-funding constitutional amendment would be the third for voters to decide on the 2020 ballot, along with legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults and expanding the veterans property tax deduction to those who served during peacetime.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.