Legislative TTF Debate Continues as Construction Projects Stall

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

“I’m supposed to be meeting with the governor sometime this week and hopefully we can come to some kind of agreement,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said.

Sweeney would like to get a bill passed this week, before the two political conventions begin, but doesn’t sound optimistic.

“We’re nowhere right now,” he said. “We’ve put some compromises together that we’re going to offer the governor and hopefully he’ll have an open mind. If he doesn’t agree with what we’re offering, is willing to offer something back. If it’s just, ‘give me what the Assembly passed, the answer is no,’ we can’t do it and we’re not going to do it.”

Across the street from the State House — at the office of the New Jersey Association of Counties — county and municipal officials urged the Legislature and the governor to get something done.

“This has to be addressed. It’s the responsibility of the Legislature to insure that we have an adequate transportation system that’s adequately funded and funded in a statewide manner to insure that New Jersey’s economy can move forward,” said Warren County Freeholder Ed Smith.

Gov. Christie halted hundreds of road and bridge projects Friday night. The League of Municipalities says the effects are already being felt.

“There is a cost to stop a project and there is a cost to restart a project. That’s a deleterious effect — a financial one. So that’s already happening,” said Executive Director Michael Darcy.

“It will be costly for both counties and municipalities in that if projects are stopped we will have to incur potential delay claims, potential re-mobilization costs. There are real expenses that counties and municipalities are going to have to address that I don’t believe we’re going to see any help from the state on these costs. They can equal anywhere between 15, 20, 25 percent of a project,” Executive Director of the NJ Association of Counties John Donnadio said.

“Folks are going to see a bridge closed, or a detour sign. It’s not as if there’s some other magical funding out there that’s going to be able to replace the Transportation Trust Fund,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said.

Both sides in the trust fund fight currently agree on a 23-cent hike in the gas tax.

Assembly Democrats and the governor want a corresponding 1-cent cut in the sales tax.

Senate Democrats say that blows a hole in the state budget, and would prefer to phase out the estate tax.

“Infrastructure is infrastructure. It needs to be funded and it needs to have a constant, reliable source regardless of what other taxes are going to be reduced,” Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough said.

Local officials also want to restore their share of the trust fund to 20 percent. It’s about half that today.

The governor scoffed at that last month.

“There’s a crisis all of a sudden. OK. If there’s a crisis what are you doing doubling the amount of money going to municipalities? When they do that, let me tell you something, you know what that is? It is a payoff to protect their political backsides,” Christie said.

“When we talk in terms of about this is some kind of payback to local officials, I think that’s totally inappropriate,” said Smith.

The coalition urging renewal of the Trust Fund is calling for a special session of the Legislature.

Chairman Tom Bracken says the optics of a project shutdown aren’t good.

“People who are considering staying in the state, people who may consider relocating to the state, they’re looking at this. That’s not a positive. We need to get it resolved. But the flip side is if we can resolve this in the right way, it can turn the corner for New Jersey,” Bracken said.

When we informed one of the speakers at today’s press conference that Sweeney told us he’d be meeting with the governor sometime this week, the man shook his head and gave a one-word response: “Unbelievable.”