Can There Be a Transportation Funding Solution While Christie Campaigns?
Conventional wisdom in Trenton is that a gas tax increase to replenish the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund won't be discussed until after the November elections when all 80 seats in the General Assembly are on the ticket.
One influential lawmaker suggested Monday that the funding crisis won't be solved while Gov. Chris Christie continues to seek higher office.
"I would go one step further and suggest that we're not going to solve this problem as long as Chris Christie continues to pursue his presidential fantasy. He's made a pledge with Grover Norquist in which he has promised not to raise new taxes," said Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville).
Last week, Christie signed the anti-tax hike promise with the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. The pledge was to not increase taxes if elected president.
"Gov. Christie understands that government should be reformed so that it takes and spends less of the taxpayers' money, and will oppose tax increases that paper over and continue the failures of the past," Norquist said in a press release statement.
According to Wisniewski, the "transportation funding crisis" can only be solved if new revenue is generated.
"It cannot be done by signing pledges with Grover Norquist. It cannot be done by raising one tax only to cut another. Some in New Jersey are even talking about that in terms of raising the gas tax only to cut another tax," Wisniewski said.
The TTF is the pot of money the state taps into for road, bridge and tunnel projects. State Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox has said the fund will run out of money when the current fiscal year ends at midnight June 30, 2016 unless a recurring source of revenue is identified. The most talked about idea is an increase in the gas tax.
One bill (A-3886) sponsored by Wisniewski would increase the tax on petroleum products gross receipts from four cents per gallon to nine percent of the average retail price of unleaded regular gasoline. He said it would amount to a 25-cent per gallon tax increase. He also sponsors another measure (ACR-205) to constitutionally dedicate all of the new revenue collected to the TTF.
The governor's press office declined comment on this report, but the top Republican in the Assembly released a statement accusing Democrats of wrongly blaming Christie for the state's financial problems.
"They have enough votes to pass legislation so why do they blame the Governor? Democrats refuse to act on fixing school funding, passing property tax relief, ending sick time payouts or dealing with the Transportation Trust Fund," Assembly GOP Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said.