Legislative Preview: Gas Tax Bill Goes to Final Vote in Senate, Assembly

Odds are good that the bill will pass, despite a political and procedural wrinkle earlier this week.

The gas tax bill gets its final day on the floor in the N.J. Assembly and Senate tomorrow.
The gas tax bill gets its final day on the floor in the N.J. Assembly and Senate tomorrow.

Despite a procedural setback on Wednesday and a wall of opposition from left-leaning independent interest groups, a compromise bill to offset a hike in New Jersey’s gas tax with an elimination of the estate tax and cuts to the sales tax will go to a vote Friday and is likely to succeed.

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Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who announced the compromise alongside Republican Governor Chris Christie and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) following last week’s rail crash in Hoboken, fell short of the 30 votes he would have needed to vote on the bill the same day that a Senate committee amended it to include the governor’s sales tax cut.

Though the move to vote on the bill immediately in an emergency session failed 23-10, the bill itself will need just 22 votes to go to Christie’s desk.

“You saw the votes were here to pass it,” Sweeney said Wednesday. “And there was a member or two that wasn’t on the floor that’s supporting it, they just weren’t here.”

The state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which largely pays for repairs to the state’s roads and bridges with money collected from the gas tax, moved Christie to issue an executive order back in June that halted all non-emergency work on transportation projects.

The urgency of getting those projects moving after the high-profile Hoboken crash (whose cause has not been determined) and the dearth of alternatives for funding the Trust Fund could keep those who voted for the emergency session on Wednesday from changing their minds tomorrow.

There is an outside chance, however, that some Democrats will jump ship now that Sweeney is out of the running for governor in 2017. Lawmakers could lean on more borrowing and wait out Christie’s term limit, a tactic that Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), himself a candidate for governor, has said he favors. He introduced a bill to authorize the additional bonded debt last month.

If the bill succeeds, the gas tax would increase 23 cents a gallon starting no sooner than November 1, giving the state an additional $1.16 billion a year in revenue. With the estate tax phased out by the start of 2018 and the sales tax cut three-eighths of a percent that same year, the bill would cost the state roughly $1.4 billion.

See a breakdown of who voted for and against the emergency session below, and listen live here when the bill goes to the Senate floor tomorrow morning at 10:00AM.

Democrats who voted ‘Yes’ to the emergency session:

James Beach, Richard Codey, Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Sandra Cunningham, Patrick Diegnan, Robert Gordon, Linda Greenstein, Fred Madden, Nellie Pou, Ronald Rice, Nicholas Sacco, Paul Sarlo, Bob Smith, Brian Stack, Joseph Vitale, Loretta Weinberg, Jim Whelan and Sweeney.

Republicans who voted ‘Yes’ to the emergency session:

Dawn Marie Addiego, Joseph Kryillos, Steve Oroho, Kevin O’Toole and Robert Singer.

Republicans who voted ‘No’:

Diane Allen, Christopher “Kip” Bateman, Gerald Cardinale, Michael Doherty, Tom Kean Jr., Sam Thompson and Beck.

Democrats who voted ‘No’:

Nia Gill, Shirley Turner and Lesniak.

Those who didn’t vote:

Anthony Bucco, Chris Connors, James Holzapfel, Joseph Pennacchio, Teresa Ruiz, Nicholas Scutari and Jeff Van Drew

Legislative Preview: Gas Tax Bill Goes to Final Vote in Senate, Assembly