New Jersey’s Democratic legislative leaders announced an agreement to fund the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund for billions of dollars in highway and rail improvements over the next decade.
The proposal, if signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, would raise the gasoline tax by 23 cents per gallon. It doesn’t include a provision, favored by Christie last month, to drop the sales tax to 6 percent from 7 percent. It also makes no increase in the jet-fuel tax, which airlines had said would drive up passenger costs and hurt the state’s business climate.
Instead, the bill offers broad tax breaks and provides an income-tax deduction for motorists of as much as $500. It also phases out the estate tax, which Christie has said drives retirees from New Jersey to states that don’t take a share of a deceased’s assets.
“We have an agreement on a plan that is needed to address the state’s critical transportation needs at the same time it provides targeted tax savings for retirees, the working poor and middle class families,” Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, said in a joint statement with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat from Secaucus.
Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment. The governor on July 8 shut down more than $3.5 billion in road and rail projects, citing a need to prioritize as the trust fund was on track to run out of money by mid-August.
A bill passed by the Assembly last month and supported by Christie and Prieto, though blocked by Sweeney, authorized $16 billion in transportation spending over eight years. Sweeney said he is calling the Senate budget committee to convene next week to amend that measure. The latest proposal calls for $20 billion — $15 billion of borrowing and $5 billion of cash — over 10 years, according to the Senate Democratic office.
Sweeney, on a conference call Friday with reporters, said he hasn’t discussed this plan with the governor. Christie presented him with an alternative on Thursday that “wasn’t acceptable,” he said, and declined to give specifics.
The state’s gasoline tax is the second-lowest in the U.S.; only Alaska pays less.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Elise Young