Including gas-tax hike, N.J. funding plan for transportation projects advances

Supporters and opponents of the measure testify at Senate committee hearing. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Supporters and opponents of the measure testify at Senate committee hearing. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A revised plan for renewing New Jersey’s Transportation Trust fund was advanced by the Senate Budget Committee by a vote of 8-4 Friday. It calls for a 23-cent increase in the gas tax and reductions in other taxes, including a phase out of the estate tax and larger tax exemptions on retirement income.

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce president Tom Bracken, who supports the plan, called it a robust solution to some of the state’s big issues.

“We cannot afford to fund our TTF with anything less than $2 billion a year with a 23-cent gas tax increase,” Bracken said. “We cannot afford to ignore our significant outmigration issue, which the estate tax elimination and the retirement-income exemption address.”

Sal Risalvato, the executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store, and Automotive Association, said he supports raising the gas tax to replenish the trust fund, but he said the hike proposed by lawmakers might not produce the level of revenue they expect.

“There is a good amount of the volume in the state of New Jersey that comes from New York and those people will have no reason to purchase gasoline in New Jersey anymore,” he said.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel supports the gas tax hike to finance transportation needs,  but he said he is concerned about the loss of revenue from other tax cuts.

“We may have to actually have a stopgap and punt until we have a governor who is actually going to lead on this issue, who is actually going to do something that’s going to move transportation forward without sacrificing other parts of our budget,” he said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo said lawmakers are trying to get a measure approved that would satisfy concerns about tax fairness.

“There are many folks who would be willing just to vote just for a Transportation Trust Fund renewal but with the absence of the executive branch on this we’re trying to bring various factions together,” he said.

Republican Sen. Kevin O’Toole says lawmakers are close to a plan that could be enacted.

“I don’t think we’re there yet, unless there’s going to be votes that we’re going to see on an override in the Assembly and Senate, which I don’t see materializing on this,” he said.

Robert Briant of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association said he hopes the matter will be resolved soon. The shutdown of transportation projects because of the funding stalemate has meant layoffs during what’s usually their busiest time of the year, he said.

“Most of these people are paycheck to paycheck. Our workers are going to be taking about a 20 percent cut in their income this year,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to make this up with overtime.”

Gov. Chris Christie has said he will veto the legislation, which he has described as an exercise in tax unfairness.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said he is working to get a veto-proof majority of lawmakers before posting the bill for a Senate vote.

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