Sunday, February 22, 2015

DeCroce on N.J.'s Federal Highway Aid

Source: Asbury Park Press
Billions of dollars are spent each year building and maintaining a New Jersey road system that, nevertheless, is riddled by congestion, crumbling surfaces and outdated designs. Now policymakers in both Trenton and Washington are at a “Y” in the road, with big implications for our pocketbooks.
At both the state and federal level, such infrastructure investments face uncertainty, with major spending programs expiring by early summer. A possible change in federal direction — the White House in recent days has been touting a new spending scheme — comes at a delicate juncture for New Jersey.
New Jersey, which is considering hiking its gasoline tax, has traditionally fared poorer than most states in securing money through the Federal Highway Trust Fund. In recent years, however, only a handful of states have done better than New Jersey in retaining or even boosting such Washington support.
But Washington already spends more on road and transportation projects than it collects from the 18.4 -cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax, which is unchanged in 20 years. How the White House and the GOP-controlled Congress, which agree on little, would pay for increased funding — or even sustain existing funding — is uncertain.
Overall, New Jersey receives 61 cents in return for each dollar in taxes it sends to the federal government, says a resolution advanced this month by the Senate Transportation Committee. The balance is better than that on highway funds, in part because Congress has added money into the highway fund that doesn’t come from taxes, meaning nearly all states get more than $1 for each $1.
“We are a corridor state. We are an import-export state. Everybody travels through our state, and we get about the least amount of money back on every dollar we send,” said Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-Morris, the lead sponsor of a resolution that also has 25 other Assembly sponsors urging Congress to give New Jersey more highway funds. “So we should receive more.”
TRIP, a Washington-based transportation research group funded by insurance companies, labor unions and construction-related businesses, says 35 percent of roads in the state are in poor condition and that 36 percent of bridges need replacement, repair or improvement, including 10 percent with structural deficiencies. Funding such a backlog is a major worry. The federal trust fund has been surviving on temporary extensions and is due to expire at the end of May.
In 2013, aid from the Federal Highway Trust Fund amounted to nearly $131 for every resident of New Jersey, which ranked 30th among the states.
That showing reflected a marked improvement. Ten years earlier, New Jersey ranked 40th in per capita highway funds, at $93 per person. Between 2008 and 2013, only three states – New York, Kentucky and Vermont – registered bigger percentage increases in per-capita highway funding than New Jersey.
Overall aid to New Jersey from the Federal Highway Trust Fund climbed from $803 million in 2003, to $1.16 billion in 2013. That increase, 45 percent, was the 11th highest nationally. Adjusted for inflation, the increase would be nearly 15 percent, equal to $148 million.
Much of that increase happened between 2003 and 2008. Since 2008, annual federal highway funding to New Jersey is up by 7 percent. Adjusted for inflation, it has been down 1.2 percent – but only New York and Alaska have seen increases over the last five years, accounting for inflation. New Jersey’s growth in highway funds ranks sixth nationally over the last five years.
In more recent years, the rankings look even better. Only two states in the country increased their federal highway aid in both 2012 and 2013 – Florida and New Jersey. Percentage-wise, the only state to increase its funding more between 2011 and 2013 was New York.
Going back to the establishment of the Federal Highway Trust Fund in 1956, only 10 states have seen a smaller return on the taxes, fines and penalties paid into the fund than New Jersey. New Jersey generally gets shortchanged in its return on federal funding because as a wealthy state its residents pay more in taxes than the state gets back for programs.
It’s not clear how the state would fund its portion. If it was done entirely through higher gax taxes, that could amount to as much as 25 cents a gallon. If you drive a car that averages 25 miles a gallon and drive 350 miles a week, the equivalent of 18,000 miles a year, that would amount to about $180 a year.
The latest signal from the state Department of Transportation connected to the state’s trust fund troubles came last week, when the state froze $25 million in bridge funding for pending and future local projects. Every county receives at least $1 million a year from the frozen fund.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Panel Approves DeCroce Bill Preventing Standardized Testing in Grades K to 2

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Assembly Republican BettyLou DeCroce sponsors legislation, approved today by the Assembly Education Committee, to exempt young school children from the rigors of standardized testing. The bill, A-3079, prohibits schools from administering standardized assessments from Kindergarten to 2nd Grade.
“The early grades are crucial for forming the foundation of future education,” said DeCroce, R-Morris, Essex and Passaic. “Children should spend class time learning the basics of math, reading and social skills.”
The bill prohibits commercially developed standardized tests, but DeCroce noted that the bill does not ban all testing in grades K to 2. Evaluations can be administered and scored by a teacher or school board.
“I think it is important to allow kids to be kids and not data collection tools,” DeCroce continued.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bramnick, DeCroce Debate Dems on Funding Options for TTF

Source: Asbury Park Press -
Participants in the gas-tax debate insist they’ll reach a deal before the transportation fund goes broke, but as mayors got to witness Wednesday it won’t happen without some partisan battling.
Democrats say taxes, most likely for gasoline, will have to go up to pay for future road and rail improvements. Some Republicans at a State League of Municipalities meeting said that’s not acceptable and that other options are available, such as cutting aid to some city schools. Democrats, in turn, said it’s not realistic to fund as much as $2 billion a year in transportation work without finding a way to pay for it.
Even though Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox says Transportation Trust Fund talks are “on the 10-yard line,” with Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto close to a plan to bring to Gov. Chris Christie, the gas-tax debate still could get contentious.
[Democrats] said the final agreement is going to require bipartisan support, [and stated that] an increase of the state’s 14.5-cent per gallon gas taxes is part of the solution but not the full answer.
Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, said she opposes a higher gas tax and that residents feel the same way, as reflected in public-opinion polls.
“I am not a genius that has a million different solutions, but I do think there are some that we should be certainly pushing and exploring,” Beck said, pointing to funding from the federal government or Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “I don’t think we can just wave our hands in the air and say it has to be a gas tax. I don’t think it’s acceptable to the people of this state that we implement higher taxes.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, suggested that $1 billion could be diverted from school funding if the state changed the court-mandated funding formula. 
Starting in July, all of the $1.2 billion in yearly revenues committed to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund will have to be used to pay down $15.6 billion in debt that has accumulated. A new plan for funding future work will have to be approved. Sweeney and others are calling for spending to be increased to $2 billion a year, including a doubling of aid to towns and counties.
“I think that discussion is on the table to talk about,” said Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-Morris. 
One of the last speakers at the event was Lake Como Mayor Brian Wilton, who asked for advice about how mayors can best press for a solution.
“If something is done, you have to stand behind the legislators to support them because it’s not going to be perfect for either side,” Bramnick said. “If they know you’re with them, regardless of the compromise, they’re more likely to get behind legislation.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

DeCroce Bill Targets Ceremonial Procedure

While one state Assembly Republican is seeking strip away Lt. Gov.Kim Guadagno’s role as acting governor during Gov. Chris Christie’s frequent trips out of state, there are at least some Republicans seeking to give Guadgano more responsibility.
Well, sort of.

Last week, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Morris) introduced a bill (A4140) that would give the lieutenant governor — who in her dual role as secretary of state oversees the state’s tourism division — the authority to designate special commemorative days, weeks, months or years for New Jersey.
That’s something the Legislature has gotten particularly good at. For instance, on Thursday — the same day DeCroce introduced her measure — lawmakers introduced bills to designate Sept. 21 each year as “Evans Syndrome Awareness Day” and the last day of March each year as “Polycystic Kidney Disease Awareness Day.” Other proposals have included a “Paella Day” (it happened in October), a “Food Allergy Awareness Week” in May and a “Rip Current Awareness Week” in June.
“It’s to get us out of the business of wasting time on ceremonials,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), who signed onto the bill as a co-sponsor after being asked by DeCroce. DeCroce did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Carroll noted that the governor himself has the authority to declare state days through proclamation (while visiting Canada on Dec. 5, Christie proclaims it ‘Canadian Utility Workers Appreciation Day’ in honor of the Canadians who came down in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy).
Carroll would prefer the business of designating days rest in just one branch of government. But Carroll wondered if the Legislature would be able to resist temptation.
“I understand where Betty Lou is going with it,” he said. “I’m not entirely persuaded it would be effective if adopted.”