TTF Plan Clears Committees but Faces Uncertainty in Full Legislature

By David Cruz

Even before the Assembly Budget Committee meeting was over last night, Chairman Gary Schaer was doing the math: nine Democrats and one Republican for, two Republicans opposed and one Republican abstention, enough to move the Transportation Trust Fund plan out of committee. But enough to override an anticipated governor’s veto?

“That percentage of negatives and abstentions will not carry this bill over an override,” barked Schaer, “and I want to be expressly clear that it is not the Democratic Party’s intention to put itself out to be run over so that the governor or anyone else can talk about how those Democrats are trying to tax you again.”

After being challenged for months by the governor to pass a funding plan for the TTF, Democrats proceeded with what they thought would be sufficient Republican support. But as the day ended, even Democrats were calling the bills reprehensible. Schaer was direct when addressing his GOP colleagues.

“Republicans, you cannot have it both ways,” he continued, “and I promise you, my advice and good counsel to the speaker will be, that unless we count the necessary Republican votes to override, not to post this bill because the Democratic Party will not commit suicide and will not abide by promises that are made and the retracted. And those promises have been made by many and retracted.”

Republicans say they’re sympathetic to commuters who are traveling on crumbling roads, rotting bridges and outdated mass transit, but they’re also sympathetic to taxpayers who are carrying one of the highest tax burdens in the country. GOP Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon abstained yesterday.

“I’m not there yet,” he admitted. “If I were there, I would have voted one way or another. If I was convinced it was solid, I would have voted yes. If I was convinced that it wasn’t, I would’ve voted no, so there’s some research and some work that I still have to do and that my friends on the other side of the aisle have to do and those talks are ongoing.”

Research, you may ask? After two years of talks and negotiations? Well, yes. Even as the Senate Budget Committee was in session, debating the merits of amendments to the TTF plan, staffers were busy re-writing those amendments, on the sidelines.

“It’s a back breaker,” snapped Sen. Jennifer Beck. “It’s a back breaker for our economy. I can’t believe that we’re at this point and we’re actually talking about a billion dollar tax increase on the highest-taxed state in the nation.”

At the end of a long day, though, the decorum and collegiality of the morning session was out the window, as Beck and Sen. Paul Sarlo went head to head in a heated exchange. Meanwhile, the governor watched from the sidelines, letting lawmakers claw at one another, reminding everyone who the decider in chief ultimately is.

“If they want something that’s going to go into effect,” he said, “they got to remember the most important numbers in Trenton — 41, 21 and one. And you’re looking at the one.”