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Summer Reading Series: Transportation

With the Transportation Trust Fund out of money for new projects by next July, New Jersey will be looking for an alternative way to fund its transportation capital program. Come up to speed on the issues with this special editorial package.

The debate over how to pay for construction, expansion and repair of New Jersey’s highways, bridges and mass transit will be one of the major issues next spring because the Transportation Trust Fund will run out of money for new projects by July 1, 2011.

TTF was set up in the mid-1980s to pay for transportation capital programs on an ongoing basis out of dedicated revenues. But a series of governors and legislative leaders who didn’t want to raise the gas tax borrowed so much against future revenues that the fund is now virtually bankrupt. Sound familiar? (Hint: Think pension funding).

Republican Governor Chris Christie intends to find room for transportation capital funding in the regular budget -- which already faces a major deficit. But some legislators believe it’s time to raise the gas tax. Christie will be able to put up less than the $1.6 billion his predecessor, Governor Jon Corzine, provided without losing federal funding because the huge New Jersey Turnpike expansion and other highway authority projects can make up most of the state’s match.

So what should we do? Should we raise the gas tax or some other tax? Should we pay for transportation capital programs as part of the regular budget, even though that means we will spend less money on projects that are considered critical to our state’s economic competitiveness? Is privatization part of the answer? What are considered best practices nationally in transportation financing? Read on:

Mark J. Magyar is an adjunct professor in the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations. A former Statehouse reporter, government official and public policy institute director, he served as policy director for the independent Daggett for Governor campaign.

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