By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Although they spent time on pensions, affordable housing and other issues, the Transportation Trust Fund dominated today’s session.
One hundred fifty mayors and council members heard the four legislative leaders express their views on getting it renewed.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said they’re getting close.
“There’s one cog that’s missing and that’s the governor. And I’m told if we get all of us together in one room then we can hash something out, we can roll something out,” he said.
Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick said Democrats can pass a bill any time and don’t need to wait for the governor.
“The Democrats are in control. They have more than 41 votes in the Assembly and they have more than 21 votes in the Senate. I understand how much we want to work together. They can put the Sweeney-Prieto proposal on the table, vote it up, send it to the governor’s desk and let him CV things he doesn’t like,” he said.
But Senate President Steve Sweeney said the Democrats are not going to vote for a gas tax hike on their own, only to have the governor veto it.
“I don’t think anyone is going to really want to vote for something knowing the governor’s not going to sign,” he said.
Sweeney said he’s not playing politics on this.
If the governor were going to veto Prieto’s plan, then all the Democrats would be on record as having voted for a gas tax increase that never happened so is there a political dimension to this?
“Oh, absolutely. When somebody tells you that policy and politics are not intertwined, Michael, they’re naive,” Prieto said.
Local roads would benefit from a renewed trust fund.
As much as 25 percent would go to local projects.
One mayor said gas has never been cheaper and it’s time for the governor to get engaged.
“Just pass it and let the governor act. But we know the governor’s going to be thinking more about New Hampshire and South Carolina. So we need everyone on both sides to remind our governor it is time to do what’s best,” said Madison Mayor Robert Conley.
“Then you say, ‘Oh it’s because the governor’s in New Hampshire.’ He wasn’t in New Hampshire seven, eight, nine years ago. We all understand it has to be done,” Bramnick said.
“Actually, I tried to do this before the election last year. It wasn’t doable. It does have to do with where the governor is today,” Prieto said.
At an earlier panel of cabinet officials, mayors pressed the acting transportation commissioner on the subject.
He assured them the governor is engaged.
“He certainly knows how important this is, absolutely. And he’s done his best to make sure that transportation has had funding, and through very lean times during the years of his administration. So he understands the importance, and again, we’re waiting on a proposal to be submitted,” said NJDOT Acting Commissioner Richard Hammer.
You could say Christie’s presidential campaign is holding up a Transportation Trust Fund deal. But the fund doesn’t go broke until July. That’s plenty of time for him to turn his focus back home.