Still No Deal on NJ Gas Tax, Funding for Road and Bridge Work
TRENTON — The dog days of summer are upon us but there is still no deal to increase the state gas tax to fund the Transportation Trust Fund. That means that close to a thousand road and bridge projects have been halted because there simply isn’t enough money to pay for them.
And it doesn’t appear things will change any time soon.
During a news conference Tuesday at the Statehouse, Gov. Chris Christie said he met with state Senate President Steve Sweeney a day earlier to discuss the trust fund. He’s been in touch with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto as well as Republican leaders in the Legislature — “and quite frankly, we’re not at a point where we’ve found a coalescing of points of view on this.”
At the end of June, Christie agreed to sign legislation passed by the Assembly that would raise the gas tax by 23 cents a gallon to fund the TTF, and at the same time lower the state sales tax from 7 to 6 percent. But Senate leaders rejected that plan and the upper house never even voted on it.
So should Christie call all sides to report to his office and try to broker a deal?
“We already had that meeting at the end of June,” said Christie. “Why should I have another meeting of all these people if in fact my hands were shaken by the people who supposedly make these decisions and then they didn’t deliver?”
“I told the Senate president I had a proposal that was acceptable to 43 of the 52 Democrats in the general Assembly, so he’s got to come up with something better than what he’s come up with so far.”
The governor stressed he wants to get the issue resolved, but sometimes trying to force things can backfire.
“Negotiations, you’ve got to know when it’s time. Sometimes you get everybody in a room and it just makes matters worse, it makes matters worse when you get everybody in the same room and start banging heads, people start to say things that they can’t take back,” he said.
Christie also said he finds it amazing that some Democrats insist cutting the sales tax from 7 to 6 percent is unaffordable, while they’re asking for the largest gas tax in state history.
“You don’t hear them say that’s not affordable to people, 'cause when they’re taking your money it’s affordable, but when they’re giving your money back, that’s unaffordable,” he said. “If you’re going to ask New Jerseyans to pay the largest gas tax increase in state history then you’ve got to give them a break someplace else so that this state does not become more unaffordable than it is now.”
As for all of the road projects that have been put on hold, Christie said “the roads are fine and the fact of the matter is that you don’t hear regular folks complaining about this. Editorial writers and politicians are talking about it more than others, so we’ll deal with it.”
So what’s the message to construction workers and others that are now out of work?
"I feel awful for them that the Senate has decided to put their own internal politics ahead of what’s good for the workers of this state, the roads," he said.
“If the Senate had in a bipartisan way passed the same bill that the Assembly stayed till 1 o’clock in the morning to pass at the end of June we wouldn’t even be having this conversation."
After the news conference, Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto, D-Hudson, issued the following statement:
“I can’t make myself any clearer than I already have over and over again – this situation is unacceptable. I am not interested in waiting until after Election Day or indefinitely to solve this problem, nor am I interested in casting blame and engaging in unproductive rhetoric. I want a solution and I want it now. Laborers are out of work, our economy is in jeopardy and public safety is at risk. The Assembly has acted, yet I’ve still agreed to alternative plans in hopes of getting a deal done, and remain open to compromise. It’s time for everyone to put their egos asides and sit together in the same room and stay there until we resolve this crisis.”