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.”