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Group pushing N.J. officials to address transportation funding

February 9, 2015, 3:01 PM    Last updated: Monday, February 9, 2015, 3:54 PM
By JOHN REITMEYER
STATE HOUSE BUREAU | 
The Record

A group that’s been pushing state lawmakers and Governor Christie to come up with a new way to fund transportation projects in New Jersey brought that effort to Trenton on Monday, holding a news conference to put more pressure on leaders to act.

“Now is the time for the final push,” said Tom Bracken, chairman of Forward New Jersey, a group made up of 75 different organizations, including labor unions, local government representatives and business groups.

New Jersey pays for its road, bridge and rail work primarily using funds raised from borrowing and from the state’s gas tax. But later this year the revenue generated by the gas tax will be going only to pay off debt, with few funds left in the state Transportation Trust Fund for new projects.

Bracken called that “the most critical issue facing the state right now.” He stopped short of endorsing an increase of the gas tax, which at 14.5 cents per gallon is among the lowest in the country, but said it should be among the options up for discussion as the leaders try and find a solution.

“I support a long-term, sustainable, dedicated solution,” Bracken said.

Members of labor unions had the strongest presence at Monday’s event, filling much of the room.

“I’ve never seen the state of New Jersey in such bad condition, said Ray Pocino, vice president and Eastern Regional Manager Laborers’ International Union of North America. He said the current group of leaders in Trenton isn’t solely to blame for that, but only they can fix it.

“No politicking, no grandstanding, just governing,” he said.

Democratic legislative leaders last week said they are close to striking a deal on a transportation-funding fix, but they have refused to discuss any details about what they are discussing. Christie, a Republican, has only said that everything remains on table as negotiations press ahead.

If the final plan does involve a gas-tax increase, there will be some work to do to convince voters it’s a good idea, according to recent polls.

A Monmouth University poll released last week found 52 percent of the state is opposed to hiking the gas tax, with 47 percent in favor. Some other polls have suggested a wider gap.

But Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said the issue is bigger than the gas tax given the amount of roadways that communities who receive funding from the state through the trust fund are responsible for maintaining. Losing state aid would push the costs down to local property taxpayers, he said.

“It is a property tax issue,” Dressel said. “Guess what? The property tax is going to go up.”

After the event, Daryn Iwicki, state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said a lot of the groups that helped cause the current funding problem are among those calling for a solution. He also said prevailing wage laws drive up the cost of projects in New Jersey, eating up transportation dollars faster than in other states.

“It’s immensely wasteful,” Iwicki said. Rather than hike the gas tax, he said there is money in the current, $32.5 billion state budget that could be repurposed, citing education spending as an example.

 

 

 

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