Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Bergen Record – As lawmakers are waiting to hear from Governor Christie on how he
plans to renew the nearly broke fund that pays for New Jersey’s road,
bridge and rail improvements, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he
wants the fix to boost transportation spending to $2 billion annually.

Sweeney, in an interview with The Record on Wednesday, said he wants
to double spending for county and municipal government road and bridge
projects.

And he said he’s pushing for a funding solution that would cover the
long-planned extensions of both the Hudson-Bergen and Glassboro-Camden
light rail lines, two projects that up until now have been considered
to be in competition for the same pot of money.

When asked how the state will fund his transportation wish list,
Sweeney said that is up for negotiations with Christie, a Republican
who just nominated Democrat Jamie Fox to lead the state Department of
Transportation.

“I’m more than willing to work with the governor,” Sweeney said.

Improving freight rail infrastructure will also be a top priority, Sweeney said.

“We have to look at the future and we have to invest, not just to
maintain, but to improve,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

Sweeney’s comments come as lawmakers in the Assembly have been holding
hearings on the future of the state Transportation Trust Fund. That
fund is used primarily to pay for construction projects on the state’s
roads, bridges and rail lines. It was supposed to spend $3.7 billion
from 2014 through 2016, but is now expected to run out of money a year
early.

Most of fund’s money comes from the state’s motor fuels tax, which at
14.5 cents per gallon is the second-lowest in the nation. It hasn’t
been raised in more than two decades.

Though many expect the end result to be an increase of the gas tax, or
possibly an extension of the state sales tax to gasoline purchases,
Sweeney would not commit to a specific funding source during the
interview Wednesday. He also did not rule out new borrowing could as a
component, but said whatever is agreed upon must be constitutionally
dedicated to only transportation.

“Everything is on the table,” Sweeney said. “The governor needs to
speak up on where we’re going.”

“We’re willing to talk about anything,” he said.

A spokesman for Christie could not immediately be reached for comment
Wednesday. Last week, when asked about transportation spending,
Christie would only say “everything is on the table for discussion.”

Also in the conversation will be Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto,
D-Hudson. The Assembly is in the midst of holding a series of hearings
to bring attention to the transportation funding issue and the need to
find a new source of revenue for the trust fund.

Prieto could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of
Municipalities, said the increased funding for local governments will
be welcomed. Right now, municipalities maintain more than 60 percent
of the state’s roadways, he said.

“That is going to improve the quality of life for our residents, the
movement of goods, public safety — it is absolutely dollars that are
going to benefit the well-being of the citizens of our state,” Dressel
said.

John Donnadio, executive director of the New Jersey Association of
Counties, said double the funding from the state would ease the burden
on local property taxpayers. County governments maintain roughly 7,000
bridges at a cost of nearly $600 million annually, with the state
right now contributing about $100 million.

“The balance falls on the backs of local property taxpayers,” he said.
“There’s a significant financial need at the local level to identify a
long-term, dependable stable source of funding.”

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752


Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626