Debate Over Ballot Question to Dedicate Fuel Tax to TTF

By Brenda Flanagan

“You got to vote no, no, no, no,” said Bill Spadea.

It’s a PR war over ballot question number 2. NJ 101.5 radio host Republican Spadea is leading the no side.

“It’s despicable. It’s disgusting. It’s wrong. You got to vote no,” he said.

“They’re using this as a vehicle now to get some sound bites,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

Sponsors, transportation advocates and business leaders are punching back and pushing the yes vote.

“Shame on all those who are trying to muddy it up,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

Ballot question 2 basically asks voters: “Do you approve amending the constitution to dedicate all revenue from the state motor fuels tax and petroleum products gross receipts tax to the Transportation Trust Fund?” The dedicated money includes more than $1 billion a year that will flow from the recent 23-cent gas tax increase, with all spending restricted to repairing roads and bridges, and completing the Hudson Bergen Light Rail.

“We’re now asking the voters to put this money in a lock box and to use it for its intended purpose — to invest in our infrastructure and invest in the state. So shame on those folks who are not only grandstanding against the gas tax are continuing to grandstand and muddy up this important question,” Sarlo said.

But the opposition sees question 2 as a second chance, possibly to claw back not just the deeply unpopular gas tax increase, but also to block extra borrowing — some $12 billion in bonds authorized by the Transportation Trust Fund.

Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno — eyeing a possible run for governor — defied her State House boss to oppose question 2.

“I think the problem with the gas tax is there’s too much borrowing and debt involved in it … and the only way to stop it and derail right now — that’s not a pun intended — and the only way to stop it right now is to stop question number 2 on the ballot,” she said.

“Don’t give Gov. Christie and this Legislature the power to borrow $12 billion, which you are going to have to pay back,” Spadea said.

“Vote no on question 2, send it back to the Legislature because without that, they can’t fund it. So, we have to bring it back to the table,” said Sen. Kip Bateman.

An Office of Legislative Services opinion concurs with the no side, stating if question 2 “…is not approved by the voters, the bill will provide no increase in bonding capacity…” But the state Treasury disagrees, asserting: “Regardless of the outcome of the ballot question, the Legislature could still authorize more than the $12 billion currently being contemplated.” The yes vote coalition claims Treasury’s correct.

And if there is a problem with borrowing: “If there is a technical issue, the Legislature does a cleanup bill. We do that all the time. So this does not affect anything. But they’re giving the misconception that by voting no it’s going to unravel and things start all over again. Absolutely not,” Prieto said.

A no vote on question 2 will not automatically repeal the gas tax increase. Transportation and business advocates want Jersey to focus on task.

“So I urge you to vote yes to keep Trenton honest. To make sure this money is spent on the way it’s intended to be spent. Don’t put it into the general fund,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Senior New Jersey Policy Analyst Janna Chernetz.

“We have to do this the right way. This is the right thing to do, it’s the right way to do it,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken.

The latest FDU poll on question 2 shows about 46 percent think they’ll vote yes on the question, 39 percent no. The debate shows no sign of slowing down before Election Day.