Transportation Committee Discusses Infrastructure

By Christie Duffy

It’s the second of four special hearings happening throughout the state, all aimed at addressing the crisis of how to fund the Transportation Trust Fund, which is out of gas.

“At a minimum, the estimates that have been thrown around is that we need to find perhaps more than a billion dollars a year in new revenue. Revenue that we’re not currently collecting from any source,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski. “The fact of the matter is, we’ve done a horrible job. Collectively on a bipartisan basis for a very long period of time.”

New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure is saddled with debt. In fact, we’re spending nearly a million dollars a year on just interest. While the condition of our roads and bridges are rated among the worst in the nation.

The American Society of Civil Engineers say one in four New Jersey bridges are considered functionally obsolete. While motorists are estimated to be paying $600 a year for repairs due to driving on shoddy roads.

Ideas floated to fix this compounding problem?

Raising taxes for one. Some propose extending the sales tax to gasoline.

“A sales tax extension would generate $1.18 billion approximately each year. Not enough, but a healthy start,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes.

“We recognized that we have dug ourselves too deep of a hole to get out of without raising the gas tax,” said NJ AFL-CIO Legislative Coordinator Eric Richard.

The gas tax is the main funding source for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund.

“There is a significant number of our constituents who say, ‘I don’t want to pay any more.’ So then, where do we get the money from?” asked Wisniewski.

“I would argue that people will pay for it. One way or another,” said Dr. Alison Premo Black, chief economist and senior vice president for American Road and Transportation Builders.

Gov. Chris Christie recently said that all options, including the gas tax, are on the table. But not all conservatives agree.

“It shouldn’t be the burden of the New Jersey taxpayer. Those who go to the pump every day to fill up their car on a weekly basis to get to and from work, to bear the burden of poor mistakes by the New Jersey legislature over the course of decades,” said Americans for Prosperity State Director Daryn Iwicki.

Others say cost savings could be realized by consolidating New Jersey’s transportation authorities, such as merging the state Department of Transportation with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

“The idea of consolidation is something that should be studied,” said Utility and Transportation Contractors Association Managing Director Anthony Attanasio.

“Any time there is a large-scale consolidation, the potential for massive layoffs, the shredding of collective bargaining agreements, mismanagement of funds and a reduction in force to the level of inefficiency are real inherent dangers,” Richard said.

The next committee hearing on the strapped Transportation Trust Fund is set for Nov. 5 at Camden County College.