New Jersey lawmaker backs higher fuel taxes

| 2/11/2005

The head of a New Jersey Assembly panel is pushing for an increase in the state’s fuel tax, saying the revenue is needed to replenish the trust fund that pays for transportation.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said the Legislature should raise the fuel tax to keep the Transportation Trust Fund from running dry in 2006.

Wisniewski did not specify how much of a boost the fuel tax needed, saying that figure would be determined after officials update a 2-year-old report on the state’s transportation needs.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey agreed the fund needs more money, but he stopped short of outright endorsing an increase in the fuel tax as a way to accomplish it.

The trust fund generates about $1 billion a year for roads, bridges and rail. But over the past 10 years, its borrowing has increased to the point that next year’s debt payments would use up most of the existing revenue.

Codey’s spokeswoman, Kelley Heck, told the Star-Ledger the acting governor was committed to finding long-term revenue for the trust fund and is “considering the gas tax among one of a number of alternatives.”

In November 2003, a state commission recommended replenishing the trust fund with a 12.5-cent increase in the existing 10.5-cent per gallon gasoline and 17.5-cent per gallon diesel fuel tax. But then-Gov. James McGreevey was against the plan.

Wisniewski said this week the public would be willing to accept the fuel tax increase if they knew the situation with the trust fund.

“I think the people of this state respect elected officials who are willing to tell them the truth,” he said.

In conjunction with his call for higher fuel taxes, Wisniewski has sponsored a bill to reform the trust fund.

The bill – A3414 – would prevent the state from spending more than 50 percent of its transportation fund on debt service.