The deadlock between the legislature and Governor Chris Christie’s administration over the state’s nearly insolvent Transportation Trust Fund continued on Wednesday as State Treasurer Ford M. Scudder testified before the Assembly Budget Committee. When the conversation between chairman Gary Schaer (D-36) and Scudder turned to the Trust Fund, blame for the continuing stalemate was mutual between lawmakers and the administration.
The state has until June 30 to devise a way to fund the TTF, which pays for maintenance and repair of New Jersey’s roads, bridges and overall transportation infrastructure. Christie has said that he will not entertain an increase in the state gas tax to cover the cost unless it comes in exchange for cuts to the estate tax, a requirement for any funding proposal that he first described as “tax fairness” in his budget address earlier this year.
“We’re talking about an actually $1.6 billion item, and it is noticeably not mentioned,” Schaer said of the governor’s 2016 budget. “You told us that you were confident that a solution would soon be forthcoming, and that there was no reason or concern, and I hope I’m phrasing this correctly, on the administration’s behalf.
“We are a few weeks, if a few days, away from June 30,” Schaer continued. “At what point should my concern cause sleepless nights? Are we at that point yet?”
Scudder said that the administration is still waiting for a proposal to reach the governor’s desk. A bill from Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) to phase out the estate tax is expected to be the bipartisan olive branch initiating the gas tax increase, though many state Republicans have criticized the bill for doing away with the tax over five years rather than cutting it immediately.
“We as an administration are certainly disappointed that the legislature has not yet come forward with a concrete proposal as the governor has been asking,” Scudder said. “The standing invitation is for the legislature to put forth a proposal on how they would like to fund the TTF in a way that represents tax fairness.”
Schaer pointed to Christie’s role in setting the parameters for the negotiations.
“The administration has made so many initiatives in this budget, as it has throughout the six years that it has enjoyed sitting in the executive seat,” he said. “I will admit to you my disappointment with your answer.”