BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Transportation Commissioner: Fund Will Be Broke Next Year

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

The Transportation Trust Fund lives, according to the transportation commissioner.

“The budget will fund our operations for one more year. Let me repeat that: one more year,” Jamie Fox said.

Fox assured Senate Budget Committee members the $1.2 billion in cobbled-together funding refuels the TTF without raising the gas tax or increasing fees. He says the treasury found $281 million in cash balances, $627 million in borrowed funds and $241.5 million in a repaid loan. It’s adequate, barely.

“As a result, projects will move forward and counties and municipalities will receive much-needed funding. And then we are broke. And that is not open for debate,” Fox said.

But, back in Janurary, Fox launched emergency inspections and repairs at some of New Jersey’s worst bridges and stood in the shadow of one crumbling span to warn, the TTF risked imminent insolvency.

“We have hit a brick wall. We are running out of money. This is different than previous years because we have, after July 1, there is no money,” he said at the time.

Soon afterwards, New Jersey saw a PR blitz calling for long-range TTF funding — launched by Forward NJ — a consortium of different groups. Momentum seemed to build until it hit a major road block in the form of Gov. Chris Christie.

“It’s not a crisis at the moment because we’re funded pretty well now,” the governor said.

“Four or five weeks ago, we were at the 10-yard line, according to the commissioner, and now we are not even in the stadium,” said Tom Bracken, chair of ForwardNJ.

Politically, it didn’t help that polls showed New Jersey residents overwhelmingly opposed raising the gas tax to fund the TTF.

So the can gets kicked down the road — to the next budget.

“It ends. July 1 of next year we will have hit a wall,” said Fox.

Fox explained the politics in oblique terms.

“It’s always nice to have a treasurer who can find the additional revenue to buy us some time,” said Fox.

So the TTF will keep rolling, fueled by a patchwork of one-shot revenue pops, but transportation officials warn that — like a patched flat tire — this fix is temporary.