POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Officials Hear Arguments to Renew Transportation Fund

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Committee Room 11 was jam-packed with people who want state government to renew the Transportation Trust Fund.

“The transportation fund is absolutely the most critical issue facing the state of New Jersey right now. And we are here today to call upon on the governor and the Legislators to end discussions and finally put forth a plan to deal with this extremely critical issue,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken.

The trust fund runs out of money July 1.

Bracken is leading the effort to renew it, as chairman of Forward NJ, a coalition of 75 organizations.

“I’d have to say in my 45 years of being in the business community of New Jersey, this is the strongest, broadest coalition ever brought together in the state of New Jersey,” Bracken said.

“I’ve served on commissions, counseled elected officials and collaborated with industry experts. That said, I can safely say that I’ve never seen the state of New Jersey in such bad condition,” said Eastern Region Laborers International Union of North America Vice-President Ray Pocino.

The governor and the Legislature are struggling with a possible hike in the gas tax.

Bracken said it would take a 24-cent hike to achieve the $1.2 billion a year target, but he didn’t call for that today.

“We listed the gas tax as one of our possible funding solutions, so if that’s part of the mix, we’d be a little disingenuous if we didn’t support that,” Bracken said.

“The people that use the roads should pay the gasoline tax. It’s a user tax in essence,” said New Jersey State League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel.

On another transportation issue, taxicab drivers from around the state converged on the State House.

They were there to demand the state regulate internet car services like Uber and Lyft as strictly as it regulates cabs and limousines.

“I want to see some fair play. We have more than a century worth of regulations that provide protections for the public and the drivers behind the wheel. And to have a new technology everybody’s blindsided by something fancy, flashy and new, we seem to have a tendency across the country of discarding these regulations,” said NJ Taxicab Association President Paul Rosenberg.

The Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony on two bills that would regulate companies like Uber.

“All over the country, all over the world, Uber is in fact being either being thrown out or forced to regulate,” said NJ Taxicab Association Lobbyist Barry Lefkowitz.

Uber responded.

“We want to come in, we want to work with the local governments, we want to work with State government to figure out how do you regulate this growing new industry, cause it is new in a way that makes sense. In a way that makes sure that drivers earn more and make more money than they ever have before and riders get a ride fast, conveniently?” asked Uber Regional Spokesman Matt Wing.

“They should be subject to all of the already established rules and regulations a limo company is required to comply with, which includes a commercial drivers license and or a background check with fingerprints through the New Jersey State Police,” said Limousine Association of NJ President Jeff Shanker.

“We actually do an extensive background check, which is one of the most comprehensive in the country,” Wing said.

While the committee reserved judgment, the cabbies made their point, chanting, “One, two, three, four. We want Uber out the door!”