Voters in New Jersey will weigh in on a constitutional amendment to dedicate funds from the state’s recent gas tax hike to transportation projects, and critics are weighing in against the ballot question on the eve of the election. Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who is vying for the Republican nomination in 2017’s race to succeed Governor Chris Christie reiterated her opposition Monday, as did State Senator Ray Lesniak.
Coming out against the question was a first for Guadagno, who has been loath to diverge from Christie throughout her tenure as the governor’s second in command. Christie favors the amendment, but Guadagno believes it will serve as a workaround for lawmakers to skirt putting additional borrowing for transportation projects to its own public vote. The question itself does not mention debt, but Guadagno shares NJ 101.5’s Michael Symons position that borrowing will be in the cards if it is approved.
“Ballot Question 2 doesn’t just create a ‘lockbox,’” Guadagno wrote in a statement. “Ballot Question 2 also authorizes up to $12 billion in debt. That’s right – voting ‘yes’ will lead to $12 billion in more debt. The Trenton politicians looking to spend more of your tax dollars don’t want you to know about the $12 billion in debt they want you to approve.”
“Over the last seven years, more than $99 of every $100 spent on transportation projects by the state Department of Transportation and NJ Transit has been borrowed,” Symons said of the state’s spending habits. “From 2010 to 2016, less than $76 million out of almost $9.4 billion in cash outlays have been from current revenues, according to the Transportation Trust Fund Authority. The rest has come from borrowing that has contributing to nearly $16 billion in debt. Yearly payments on that debt will be around $1.3 billion through 2029, then more than $1 billion annually for a dozen years after that. Those bills far exceed the $750 million in annual gas taxes that New Jersey has collected in recent years, which is part of why the state just hiked the tax 22.6 cents a gallon. Although the gas tax was sold as a way to pay for transportation projects, eleven cents of the tax will go to pay down debt until 2042.”
Lesniak, a one-time progressive outlier on the Democratic side of the gubernatorial race, also cited Symons’ argument.
“The legislation increasing the gas tax by 23 cents prohibits borrowing against the hike until the ballot question is passed by the voters,” he wrote. “If the question fails, the governor and the legislature will not be able to engage in this type of unbridled borrowing.”
The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, supports the plan to dedicate the funds to the ailing Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for repairs to the state’s roads and bridges. The debate over how to offset the gas tax hike with accompanying tax cuts led to months of gridlock in Trenton.
“The successful passage of Question 2 will end the misuse of funds meant for transportation infrastructure, and it will provide a sustainable and steady source of funding for our infrastructure. If Question 2 does not pass, New Jersey’s transportation system could quickly revert to a broken system.”