Gov. Chris Christie met separately this week with both of the Legislature’s top Democrats as the impasse that has shuttered state-funded transportation construction enters its third month.

The meetings between Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, held Monday, and between the governor and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, held Tuesday, are a small sign of progress. But there’s no tangible evidence that a resolution is on the horizon, and Sweeney continued to say it’s conceivable the standoff could extend for another two months or more.

“We had a very healthy meeting but, look, we’re looking at numbers. We’re just trying to figure it out. I don’t know where we’re going to be. Do I think it can go into November? Yeah, because it depends on what we can come together and agree on,” said Sweeney, who said he met with Christie for 60 to 90 minutes to discuss various topics.

“The governor gave me some thoughts, and I’m going to be talking to the speaker hopefully next week, and we’ll see where we go from there. But there ain’t any white smoke yet," said Sweeney.

After his Monday meeting with Christie, Prieto called it “just a good dialogue.”

Pressed for details about what’s being discussed, Christie on Monday told reporters it’s best if the negotiations be done privately.

“My job is not to give people more information. My job is to give people results. And when I negotiate a deal finally on this, they will get the result that they need to get,” Christie said.

They all got weak in the knees when it came time to do the right thing. I’m willing to do the right thing.[/pullquote]

The shutdown of state-funded road, bridge and rail projects that was ordered to take effect July 8 has resulted in layoffs. The state’s July job figures showed a net decline of 3,200 construction industry jobs. Christie said he won’t capitulate in the negotiations over tax changes, even though governors typically receive the blame for bad news – and he emphasized that he’s the first governor in nearly 30 years willing to sign a hike in the gas tax, which he says other governors have broached, only to back away.

“They all got weak in the knees when it came time to do the right thing. I’m willing to do the right thing. If the Senate president’s unwilling to do it, that’s his call. He can go to all his building trades buddies and tell them all why they’re not working,” Christie said.

Christie, Prieto and Sweeney all agree on a 23-cent a gallon hike in the gas tax. The disagreements have come over what tax cuts to approve as part of the bargain.

Christie wants to cut the sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent, plus exempt more retirement income from taxes. Sweeney is on board with the retirement income cut but says the state budget can’t afford the revenue reduction that would result from cutting the sales tax. He prefers a more targeted package headlined by the gradual elimination of the estate tax.

“This really is about the future of the state of New Jersey,” Sweeney said. “I think the governor said I should go explain to my friends in the building trades, I should explain to them why they’re out of work. Well, I’m explaining we’re not mortgaging the future for a quick fix. We’re trying to find a solution.”

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