PATERSON – Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-2) said that he was surprised by the late-night compromise struck between Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) and Governor Chris Christie regarding the new plan to replenish the near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).
On Monday, the assembly and senate were initially expected to vote on a plan that would phase out the estate tax in exchange for a 23-cent per gallon hike to the gas tax. However, as a potential veto from Christie loomed due to the Governor’s lack of willingness to be tied to a new tax and with Prieto unable to secure the veto-proof supermajority in the legislature, a new deal was struck. Around 1 a.m. the assembly voted on a bill that would cut the sales tax to 6 percent as an offset to the new gas tax. Sweeney was not a part of those negotiations.
“I woke up this morning and I was actually pretty surprised to read that they had passed a formula,” Sweeney said. “We will work with our Assembly colleagues. At the end of the day… we are going to do what we think is reasonable and possible but I didn’t have that conversation. We left but the assembly stayed and they passed a bill so we will have those conversations with the speaker and the leadership and the governor.”
According to Sweeney, he needs to study the new measure more closely. The initial TTF bills were the brainchild of Democrat Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) and Republican Senator Steven Oroho (R-24). By pushing the new late-night deal, Prieto has thrown a wrench into the measure that was likely to receive bipartisan approval in the state senate.
“For right now, we are just studying what they did to be honest. But we think [the Senate] has a good bill,” Sweeney said. “They made some changes to the bill last night that no one ever talked about so we will talk to them. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with and needs to be dealt with now.”
If a plan is not approved to fund the TTF by July 1, the fund will go bankrupt and lead to a likely work stoppage on many of New Jersey’s transportation/infrastructure projects. Additionally, new projects will not be able to go forward, leaving many of New Jersey’s roadways, bridges and tunnels without repair.
The senate president said he is unsure what will go to a vote in the New Jersey Senate this Thursday during the last session before the TTF funding runs out.
“Hopefully we will come up with an agreement [by Thursday],” Sweeney said. “That is what we are hoping but, guess what? We might not.”