TRENTON – The state Senate approved 27-9 a bill to roll back toll hikes on N.J. toll roads.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Nicholas J. Sacco and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney introduced the legislation in January to roll back toll increases intended to pay for the cancelled Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project that Gov. Chris Christie rejected late last year.
The toll hikes earmarked would have raised $1.25 billion.
“When it comes to the cancelled ARC project, there’s just one simple, over-arching principle: ‘No tunnel, no toll hike,’” said Sacco, of Hudson and Bergen.
However, some legislators like Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Middletown, said the time to bring up the toll issue was when the very discussion of adding tolls was being discussed, “not when people invested in New Jersey.”
“Not after the bonds have been sold,” he said. He added that the state’s fiscal health had already been downgraded by various rating agencies, such as Standard & Poors. Kyrillos dismissed the rollback issue as “political theater.”
Sacco dismissed Kyrillos’s claim about the bonds, saying the Office of Legislative Services said no bills have been sold.
However, Nick Scutari (D-22), of Linden, said the residents were promised that portion of toll money would be specifically used for the tunnel,
“Let’s give the people their money back,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Allen (R-7), of Edgewater Park, said voting no on this would deter businesses and investors from feeling secure.
“If we are not going to be fiscally responsible, businesses are not going to come,” she said. “We’re not giving them that sense of security.”
Michael Drewniak, spokesman for Gov. Christie, issued a statement on the vote.
“This is nothing more than a transparent political ploy. It is the height of irresponsibility that they choose to be so cavalier with state finances merely for the sake of scoring political points.
“At a time when we need to be focused on the real, substantive issues that demand attention, members of the legislature continue to resort to the tired political gamesmanship that has repeatedly failed our state.”