Transportation aid fails in New Jersey ; effort continues

| Friday, January 13, 2006

New Jersey lawmakers wrapped up their two-year legislative session Monday, Jan. 9, without dedicating more existing revenue to the state’s near-bankrupt trust fund that pays for transportation.

The effort, however, has been renewed for the 2006 session, which began the following day, Jan. 10.

Last session’s bill – A3414 – provided for all revenue from the state’s motor fuels tax and the petroleum products gross receipts tax to go to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. The measure was not taken up by the Assembly before the session ended.

Sponsored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the bill also sought to ensure $24.5 million a year from the state’s toll roads would go into the fund. In recent years, those contributions have been diverted to the state’s general budget.

The bill, however, didn’t address new ways to finance the trust fund.

Wisniewski’s bill would have allowed the trust fund to spend $1.6 billion annually for roads, bridges and rail. In 2005, the fund was about $1.3 billion.

But during the past decade, its borrowing has increased to the point that debt payments for 2006 will use up most of the existing revenue.

The measure also would have prevented the state from spending more than 50 percent of its transportation fund on debt service, though not until 2021.

Although the effort to address the transportation fund died with the close of the 2005 session, supporters have renewed their fight in the session that began Tuesday, Jan. 10.

The latest effort was introduced by Democratic Sens. Joseph Doria of Jersey City , and Joseph Vitale of Woodbridge . S2362 has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee for consideration.

The issue is sure to garner a lot of discussion. Transportation experts said Gov.-elect Jon Corzine and the Legislature must decide by March not only how to reform the trust fund but also where to find new sources of revenue.

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