New Jersey lawmakers get creative in effort to raise road revenues

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, November 13, 2014

Multiple methods to boost revenue options for transportation purposes are under review at the New Jersey statehouse.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen/Passaic, has offered a bill that would boost allotments to the Transportation Trust Fund from alternative fuel vehicles. Currently, the fund relies largely on revenues derived from the state’s gasoline and diesel taxes.

A3816 would route the portion of the sales tax revenue from electric and alternative-powered vehicles to the fund, which faces a $620 million shortfall for fiscal year 2016.

Eustace said the change is needed to address transportation system repair coffers that are nearly depleted.

“Seeking alternative funding sources for the Transportation Trust Fund is necessary to maintain the state’s roadways and railways in the manner it needs to be – now and in the future,” Eustace said in a news release.

His bill targets sales tax revenue from the electricity, natural gas and hydrogen used to fuel alternative motor vehicles.

“This additional financing capacity will be beneficial to put in place now, especially as more residents are choosing to purchase green or environmentally friendly vehicles.”

The Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee could discuss the bill during a scheduled meeting on Nov. 20 in Atlantic City to address replenishing the transportation fund.

Another proposal that could come up for discussion at the meeting would use revenue from slot machines for the TTF and the state’s pension system.

Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, D-Bayonne, is working on a measure to amend the state constitution to permit slot machines at four racetracks. Revenue would be divided between the transportation fund and the pension system.

A separate Senate resolution proposes a change to the state Constitution to dedicate a portion of motor vehicle fees and surcharges to the TTF.

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, S1865 would mandate 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.

Although Gov. Chris Christie has said that he is open to all options to raise revenue for transportation, he has generally opposed raising the fuel tax.

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