The Transportation Trust Fund is set to expire today.
This is not news. For the past few years, New Jersey lawmakers, advocates, and the business community have been talking about the looming crisis. Thepays for maintaining the state’s roads, bridges, and many mass-transit projects. It also supplies aid to municipalities to fix local roads. The fund, which was originally created in 1984, was expected to be paid through “pay as you go” money from the general budget together with borrowing. But critics have been calling for a renewal to the fund for more than 10 years, complaining about an over-reliance on borrowing that was due to reach its limit.
Despite this, the Christie administration was able to avoid tax hikes for the fund by cancelling the ARC tunnel to Manhattan and using the state’s contribution to the project to extend the life of the existing fund. Meanwhile, the fund has been refinancing its obligations every year. At this point, most officials agree there does not seem to be any money available to refinance. Anything that could be obtained through another round of refinancing would have to be devoted to the fund’s debt.
For the past few months, lawmakers have been trying to come up with a solution. Gov. Chris Christie said he was waiting for the Legislature to make a proposal. Behind the scenes Democrats were working with Republicans on the project because they feared a Christie veto, so they needed a supermajority to ensure passage. The state Senate just recently revealed its plan, which called for a 23 cent hike in the gas tax, plus some tax cuts the Republicans wanted such as elimination of the estate tax, deductions for charity donations, and tax cuts for senior citizens.
On Monday afternoon, after the state Senate approved its plan, Christie approached the Assembly with his own idea: a reduction in the state’s sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent, in return for the same 23-cent tax hike. The cost of the Christie plan would be more than double ($1.6 billion at minimum) the Senates proposal.