New Jersey lawmakers pursue transportation network overhaul, revenue

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/10/2014

Multiple efforts at the New Jersey statehouse are intended to benefit the state’s transportation network.

State lawmakers sent one bill to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk that would establish the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund. The change would boost public and private investments for the state’s transportation network.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, said state officials cannot ignore the “underlying value” the infrastructure system holds for the state’s economy.

“New Jersey’s economic recovery will be inherently linked to whether or not we create a more reliable and sustainable infrastructure system with better roads, bridges, tunnels and rail systems,” Wisniewski said in a recent news release.

A2268 would repeal the existing State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. In its place, a special non-lapsing, revolving fund within the state’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust would be established.

The trust’s current mission would also be expanded to include transportation and energy projects. The trust could also issue bonds in maturities of up to 30 years for all types of projects.

A separate Senate resolution proposes a change to the state Constitution to dedicate a portion of motor vehicle fees and surcharges to the Transportation Trust Fund. The fund faces a $620 million shortfall for fiscal year 2016.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the state needs a plan to address infrastructure needs.

“We have a responsibility to fix this. We have to start pushing the Transportation Trust Fund,” Sweeney said during a recent press conference. “New Jersey is a logistics state. That’s what sparks our economic development in the state. If we have poor infrastructure, we are going to lose business.”

SCR126 would redirect at least $400 million annually from vehicle fees and surcharges for transportation projects. The revenue now goes into the general fund.

The resolution awaits consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee.

A separate effort in the committee would increase the state’s 14.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax rate and 17.5-cent diesel tax by 15 cents. Specifically, S1865 would increase the tax rates by 5 cents per gallon each year for three years.

Sponsored by Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, the bill would mandate that the estimated $750 million raised each year be used solely for transportation purposes.

The push to significantly boost the state’s tax rates, which haven’t been increased since the late 1980s, faces a major hurdle. The governor has maintained his opposition to boosting the tax rate.

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