Elected Officials Discuss Transportation Funding

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Renewing the Transportation Trust Fund is one of the most pressing issues in New Jersey.

One hundred fifty mayors converged on the State House today for an annual League of Municipalities meeting and heard state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox say negotiations toward a solution are making progress.

“We’re probably on the 10-yard line, hopefully, to get some type of package that everyone, a majority of people can support,” Fox said.

Fox said it’s like negotiating with Sunnis and Shias, but that everyone agrees now is the time.

When asked if negotiations can be done without raising revenue of some sort, Fox said, “They’ll need a revenue enhancer. Money does not grow on trees.”

A panel of legislative leaders picked up the discussion.

“I’ve talked about the the dirty word, the t-word, the tax word, but we can couple that with other things that we need to get done. Hopefully we can come to an agreement, we can come somewhere in the middle,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

The trust fund runs out of money this June.

It needs $1.2 billion a year, which would leverage $2 billion.

The big question is whether they will do it by hiking the gas tax.

“Of course it’s gonna be some form of tax. It’s no free ride,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“I personally am opposed to a gas tax. Our residents are opposed to a gas tax. More taxation is not an option,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck.

“There are people up here that don’t want to acknowledge… They support fixing transportation. They just don’t want to do it that way. There is no magic fix here,” Sweeney said.

New Jersey’s gas tax has always been one of the lowest in the country.

Some don’t want to give that up.

Others see little choice.

“There are lots of other things you can raise, but you have to raise them to incredible levels to even come close to the amount you can raise through a gas tax,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

“I respect everybody position, I’m against that, I’m against this. What are you for? And don’t tell me something I can’t make happen,” Sweeney said.

By and large, it seems Democrats are for raising the gas tax and Republicans against. The top Republican, Gov. Chris Christie, is expected to join the negotiations soon.

“This will get fixed. We are not gonna allow bridges to be closed and roadways to be closed. We will get it done,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

“Hopefully we’re gonna hear something from the governor. We have to talk to him first. He’ll be back and it was important for the Senate and Assembly to get on the same page, which I really think we’re very close to right now,” Sweeney said.

When details are presented will be when the rubber hits the road.