Bills to Raise Gas Tax, Fund TTF Head to Full Senate

By Michael Hill

It’s one of five stalled road projects in Trenton thanks to the state Transportation Trust Fund that’s run dry of money — a bumpy Ferry Street as the road to replenish the fund has proven just as bumpy for lawmakers.

“We do have a crisis here in the state of New Jersey with the Transportation Trust Fund,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

So, on Friday afternoon in the middle of summer, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee considers bills to raise the state gasoline tax by 23 cents a gallon but don’t include repealing the sales tax by a penny.

“There are some changes,” Sarlo said.

To appeal to tax cutting-minded colleagues, the amendments include speeding up the phase out of the estate tax by 2020, a $3,000 exemption for active veterans, raising the tax credit for folks making less than $100,000, increasing the amount of tax-exempt retirement income and allowing drivers to deduct gas tax from their taxable income.

“The bill we have in front of us is a bit of a shell game forcing those of us that have advocated for a long time for tax cuts because of our opposition to a billion dollar tax increase on our residents being done on a Friday in July,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck.

Beck found “conditional” support from the Sierra Club, which called for lawmakers to simply vote on the 23-cent gas tax hike and leave taxes alone.

“I would like to see a clean vote, on a clean bill,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

Others lobbied to vote for the bill drafted by Democrat Sen. Sarlo and Republican Steve Oroho.

“Your purposed bill is a robust solution,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken.

“I ask you today we cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good,” said AAA Northeast Director of Public Affairs Cathleen Lewis.

Others urged lawmakers to act quickly because the layoffs from stalled projects are piling up.

“A sustained shutdown based on our analysis would impact roughly 2,100 engineering jobs,” said American Council of Engineering Companies of New Jersey President Joseph Fiordaliso.

In the end, the committee approved the two bills heading to the full Senate as leaders hope to garner 27 veto-proof votes.

“And we’re still working, convincing a few members on some of the amendments,” Sarlo said.

Lawmakers still have had no luck overriding Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoes. They need the votes to approve this legislation but they say equally as important is rounding up the support just in case the governor throws up a potential road block to putting money in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.