Officials Discuss Transportation Funds

By Brenda Flanagan

Crumbling bridges, cracked tunnels, pot-holed roads and jammed traffic — they’re all bad for business. Members of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce want it fixed on a statewide scale.

“The Transportation Trust Fund is absolutely critical. The business community and folks like myself throughout the state, we’re in a quagmire because we’re not typically supportive of raising taxes and fees,” said Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Kirkos.

But many New Jersey transportation mavens — including Commissioner Jamie Fox — say the Transportation Trust Fund’s as broken as New Jersey’s worst bridges. Fox stood beside the cracked Route 3 span crossing the Hackensack just a month ago and argued for boosting the gas tax.

“We have hit a brick wall. We are running out of money. This is different than previous years because we have, after July 1, there is no money,” Fox said.

That’s what the Fox says. But, that’s not what his boss said about the TTF last week.

“It’s not a crisis at the moment because we’re funded pretty well now,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

“You know the governor and I disagree on a lot of things, but I think the biggest disservice to the debate is to have somebody like the governor say, ‘It’s not a problem right now. We got it covered,'” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

Transportation Committee Chair Wisniewski says the fund can still borrow money — up to about $600 million. But he says raising the gas tax 25 cents a gallon — an estimated 85 cents per day per driver — will pump required revenue into the fund. And Democrats also want a constitutional amendment to restrict expenditures.

“Because when people hear it’s going cost 85 cents perhaps a day to the average driver they’ll feel comfortable with that, knowing it’s in a lock box and politicians from both sides of the aisle are not gonna steal that money and use it for pet projects,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Commissioner Fox didn’t show up to speak due to a schedule conflict, but his spokesman says, “Discussions on renewing the TTF are continuing. Identifying a dedicated revenue source sooner rather than later remains a priority.”

The business community expressed a similar sense of urgency. As for Gov. Christie, Sarlo said, “I support the governor and whatever his ambitions are, but we need him to come back and focus a little bit on New Jersey.”

“If he’s not gonna listen to elected officials, then maybe he’ll listen to you, the business people. And your business is gonna be predicated on the success of how we move people around this county and the state,” said Bergen County Executive James Tedesco.

“There’s gotta be other solutions available besides just always a tax and spend,” said AmeriQuest Transportation Services Vice President of Sales Gary Griffin. “I’m not saying I’m not behind it [a tax increase]. I’m saying that’s part of the solution, but there’s gotta be other alternatives to consider as well.”

Polls show New Jerseyans don’t want to pay higher gas taxes. The question: will the business community that desperately wants improvement in transportation lobby to pay for it with an increase in taxes?