By Brenda Flanagan
A gallery of laid-off laborers applauded as the Senate voted to amend the Transportation Trust Fund bills so they reflect the most recent political deal: raising New Jersey’s gas tax 23 cents to refuel the bankrupt TTF and cutting or phasing out other taxes to soften the blow. For these guys — laid off when the governor froze road projects in June — it’s about making a living.
“I think I had about 15 laborers on the job the day we got shut down, and they all have families and children and bills to pay. I want to work. This is something you do. This is the American dream, right?” said laid-off construction worker Brian Jarantow.
But their American dream got deferred until Friday because procedural rules prevent the Senate from voting on any bills the same day they’re amended unless three-fourths of the senators agree to do it as an emergency. The sponsor couldn’t get those 30 votes to move the TTF measures today.
“Some people are concerned about voting for a gas tax increase. It’s a difficult vote. This is not an easy vote,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.
The Senate president said some feared the political liability of putting any TTF-related yes vote on the record.
“Because some people were convinced that a vote for the emergency, which has nothing to do with a vote on the TTF, was a vote for the gas tax. So you saw their votes were here to pass it and there was a member or two that wasn’t on the floor that we know is supporting it, they’re just not here, so we’ll be back on Friday morning, you know? It’s a delay of a day,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“There’ll be enough votes to pass this, to put it on the governor’s desk, which he has indicated to everyone publicly that he would sign,” Sarlo said.
The bills will require just a simple majority to pass on Friday. In addition to the 23-cent gas tax hike that’d fund the TTF for eight years, they’d cut the sales tax by about a third of a penny, phase out New Jersey’s estate tax and increase the EITC — earned income tax credit — from 30 percent to 35 percent. But opponents warned the fight’s not over.
“I am opposed to the gas tax increase. Completely opposed to the gas tax increase. I will vote no on any gas tax increase,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck.
“There’s a lot that can happen between now and Friday. The public will be on those phones, calling up legislators. We’ll have a real shot at stopping this, if we have time to get the public involved,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak. “One day is plenty. In politics, one day is plenty.”
Meanwhile, supporters lobbied reluctant legislators.
“This isn’t just a TTF tax hike bill. This is comprehensive tax reform, and this is the type of reform we need to talk about in the state of New Jersey,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka.
“The sooner we get this done, the better. It’s been a long wait, especially for the TTF resolution. The future of our state is at stake. This is a real game changer for New Jersey,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Bracken.
So the amended TTF package will sit for a day. On Friday everyone will be back here in place for the final vote in both the Senate and the Assembly.