TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday released A10, a bill aimed at replenishing New Jersey’s near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and A11, a bill that amends certain NJ taxes in conjunction with the TTF changes. The move is part of a last-minute push by legislators to pass TTF funding legislation before the fund runs out on June 30.
Both A10 and A11 cleared the the Budget Committee with ten ‘yes’ votes, two ‘no’ votes and one abstention. Republican Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-8) joined Democrats on the committee to vote ‘yes.’ Her fellow Republican committee members chose to vote ‘no’ or abstain. All of the committee’s Democrats voted to release the bills.
“This is an extraordinarily tough vote,” said Budget Chairman Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), referencing compromises made on both sides of the aisle. According to Schaer, getting more Republicans on the side of the bills is critical in case they face veto from Governor Chris Christie. He said that, while parts of the bill are “reprehensible,” the state cannot afford to face default on the TTF.
“To say this bill is not perfect is the understatement of the year,” Schaer said. “But they represent compromise, bipartisanship and a willingness to do things one does not want to do… in the interest of progress.”
On Monday June 20, the legislation was introduced in both the state senate and the assembly. If eventually signed into law by the governor, the legislation stands to impose a $0.23 increase per gallon to the gas tax while cutting a number of other taxes including phasing out the estate tax. In the assembly chambers, there was a two-hour recess while legislators hammered out the final language of the bills and how they will amend already-existing statutory law.
If enacted, the bills stand to generate about $2 billion per year for the next ten years to be spent on New Jersey’s roads and infrastructure. While Governor Chris Christie has been resistant to any tax increases, the bipartisan nature of the gas tax legislation—the senate version of A10, S2412, is co-sponsored by Republican Steven Oroho (R-24)—has many supporters hopeful that the state can avoid a work stoppage caused by a lack of TTF funding. While Christie has been opposed to tax raises, there is hope that the across-the-board tax cuts that will accompany the increased gas tax may encourage the governor to sign the legislation.
Before the vote, the Budget Committee heard testimony from many individuals and both in favor and opposed to the bills. Airport workers had a large turnout to oppose the legislation. They claim that the proposed tax increase on jet fuel would be crippling to the industry. They also claim that the allotment of funds to statewide transportation services to be generated by that tax increase defy federal laws that state jet fuel tax should only be used to fund aviation.
“This tax that we are talking about for the airlines would generate about 170 million,” Schaer, a ‘yes’ vote, said. “We have a choice, we can either charge it to United or other airlines that fly into New Jersey or we can raise the amount of gas tax that our residents will pay. That is going to be a hard and difficult sale when you make $4.2 billion per year.”
According to Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-25), his ‘no’ votes stem from the fact that the bills don’t help the middle class.
“Part of this package should have included increasing our tax brackets to the rate of inflation,” Bucco said. “If I could have that, I would be all in today. We all recognize that we live in a state that is the most expensive in the nation… but I have been here long enough to know that if we have more money, we are not giving out tax breaks. We are finding projects to spend it on.”
According to Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27), the bills need to move forward because Christie has failed to provide leadership on fixing the TTF during his six and a half years in office.
While Governor Christie said that the legislation is on the right track, he said he will not sign it if he does not feel it provides tax fairness.