CHAMBER TRAIN — Former Ambassador to Germany and burgeoning gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy paused as he made his way through the jam-packed aisles here on the train to Washington to offer his take on Trenton’s impasse of the month: fixing a broken state transportation infrastructure system and replenishing a depleted Transportation Trust Fund.
“We need to do something,” Murphy, who’s openly mulling a gubernatorial bid in 2017, told PolitickerNJ. “As painful as it may be, we need a solution.”
Lawmakers have been going behind close doors to figure out how exactly where they’ll get the revenues to replenish the TTF, which pays for major road, bridge, and rail repairs in the state. But ideological differences between lawmakers in recent weeks have prevented that discussion from making much headway — Democrats have proposed levying a gas tax at either the pump or on petroleum importers at the state level, while many Republicans say they are opposed to such a measure.
One of the possible routes legislators are considering to get the TTF on better financial footing is to trade a gas tax for a repeal of the estate tax, sought by Gov. Chris Christie and others. It’s unclear, however, whether that deal will pan out. (Absent an agreement that placates both sides’ interests by June, the deadline before the TTF hits full insolvency, a refinancing stop-gap is the likely alternative.)
For his part, Murphy — whose made strides in recent months to appeal to his party’s progressive base, notably with his New Start New Jersey nonprofit — was wary to endorse a consumer gas tax.
“That’s a regressive tax,” Murphy said. “It hits working families right between the eyes.”
He also grimaced at the idea of trading an elimination of the inheritance tax, which many consider a progressive tax, with a regressive gas tax at the pumps, arguing the two don’t “add up ideologically.”
Ideally, Murphy said he’d prefer a tax on petroleum imports — or “better yet, going forward, something like a mileage-based tax,” which states like Oregon have tested in recent years.