By David Cruz
Yes, the Transportation Trust Fund is running on fumes. Yes, the halls are jammed with advocates and their supporters. All the outward signs of a typical eleventh hour Trenton voting session were there, and, in fact the Senate did gavel in for a vote. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room — consideration of a bill to refill the Transportation Trust Fund, passed by the Assembly on Monday — appeared to be off the table, according to several lawmakers close to the situation.
Asked if a deal in the Senate was imminent, Sen. Kevin O’Toole chuckled. “Is that what you heard? That’s news. Well, I don’t know; I think there’s been a lot of chatter about what’s going on,” he said. “Clearly, the Assembly ran out with their proposal and there’s some merit to that. We’ll take a look at that and I know [Paul] Sarlo and [Steve] Oroho have been working really hard on theirs. I think it’s really important to have a lot of people under the same roof and on the same wavelength. Something has to get done, there is a sense of urgency and I think people realize that.”
Senators on both sides of the aisle are said to be balking at this week’s deal — struck between the governor and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto early Tuesday morning — for a 1 percent cut in the state sales tax in exchange for the governor’s support of the 23-cent gas tax hike. Sen. Oroho helped to craft the original gas tax bill that cleared the Senate. Today, he said, things were still up in the air.
“As far as what we’re going to be voting on, if we’re going to be voting on something, I’m not really sure, but, as I said, whenever the governor is involved, things move very quickly,” he said, “and the governor always add value to getting a compromise, getting a deal, getting something finished.”
But the situation here was fluid for most of the day. Senators caucusing and canvassing and maybe even horsetrading, but to what effect?
“I think we are almost there with the votes for passing the TTF in the Senate and enough votes for an override but time could always change that,” warned veteran Sen. Dick Codey. “So I think you’re looking at about a two-week window where there will be some more negotiations and talks and I think we’ll get it done at that point in time and we’re pretty close, especially over here in the Senate, in passing the Sarlo/Oroho bill.”
Pretty close, maybe possibly. There’s a lot of uncertainty about where it all stands, but Sen. Sarlo seemed sort of certain that the Assembly bill had little to no support in the upper chamber.
“We’re making progress and discussions will continue,” said Sarlo. “At this point in time we’re making progress. We had a good caucus today. The Senate will not be acting on the Assembly version; there’s no support on both sides of the aisle. There is still a lot of support for the original Senate bill, and hopefully we could continue to work on that bill and work with the governor.”
Sarlo says there’s still a little money left in the TTF tank, which could give lawmakers a couple of weeks to work out a deal, but, this is Trenton, so by the time you wake up tomorrow, something entirely different could happen.