TRENTON – Assemblyman and Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald questioned why Gov. Chris Christie is willing to borrow billions of dollars for the Transportation Trust Fund, given that he promised he wouldn’t borrow money without voter approval.
DOT Commissioner Jim Simpson said Thursday that voter approval is not required so long as there are “constitutional dedicated revenues.”
Greenwald said he’s concerned there isn’t a dedicated revenue stream to pay back the bonds through debt service payments.
Besides the bonds, revenues would come from such sources as the motor fuels, petroleum and sales taxes.
Vice-Chairman Gary Schaer, (D-36), of Passaic, said that even if the state law doesn’t require voter approval, he believes it would still be a good idea to give taxpayers the opportunity.
“By any stretch, it would be looked upon as desirable,” he said.
He asked Simpson during the Transportation Department budget hearing once the five-year $1.8 billion commitment from the Port Authority is up, where will the state find the money to make it up. In 2012, $343 million in Port Authority of New York and New Jersey funds will go to the TTF and will be used for highway and bridge projects in the port district, according to the Office of Legislative Services.
Simpson, who said he was hesitant to speculate, said the state may ask the authority again for funding. However, he admitted additional funds would be needed.
“We’re going to have to find new revenues,” he said. Simpson said it may come in the form of user fees and higher taxes, among other mechanisms.
In 2016, approximately $348 million will be budgeted for debt service payments, Simpson said.
Schaer said the governor’s fix on TTF is only a temporary one.
“Five years from now, we (will be) back to square one,” he said. “It will be as critical as it is today.”
Gary R. Chiusano, (R-24), Sussex, said he found it “ironic” how Democratic lawmakers are calling for voter approval on this particular issue when they could have called for voter approval on other issues in the past, such as school funding.
“Now there seems to be quite an uproar,” he said.
The administration last year canceled the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project, then despite lawmakers’ attempts to roll back toll hikes that were enacted expressly for ARC, the administration kept the money to use for the Transportation Trust Fund for infrastructure projects.