Wisniewski: Raise Gas Tax To Pay For NJ Transportation Projects

RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — One of New Jersey’s key transportation figures says more borrowing isn’t the answer to the state’s infrastructure funding problem.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski told Meadowlands-area business leaders Tuesday that the state must identify a dedicated source of funding for the Transportation Trust Fund.

Wisniewski proposed raising the state’s gas tax on wholesalers.

“There’s $600 million in borrowing capacity left in the Transportation Fund,” he said, CBS2’s Diane Macedo reported. “But put that in perspective: Our current year capital program — again, all borrowed money — is $1.6 billion.”

And that’s not the only concerning discrepancy, Wisniewski said.

“Over the life of the Transportation Trust Fund, New Jersey has spent $27 billion on infrastructure,” the assemblyman said. “Over the life of the Transportation Trust Fund, New Jersey’s taken in $17 billion in cash.”

The fund is due to run out of money in June. Last week, Gov. Chris Christie said the state can use authorized but unissued bonds to pay for road, bridge and tunnel work and repair in fiscal year 2016.

Wisniewski said even though $600 million is available that way, bond attorneys say the trust fund has already been refinanced so often that the bonds’ tax-exempt status could be threatened.

Wisniewski said the funding shortfall could not only affect day-to-day transportation operations, but would also prohibit the launch of new projects, such as the proposal to extend the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus.

“Without money, there’s no status on it,” Wisniewski told Macedo. “There’s studies, there’s certainly a lot of interest. We now have to find a funding source.”

A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows 54 percent of New Jersey residents oppose increasing the gas tax, while 42 percent support the idea.

Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes New Jersey comes around for the sake of the No. 7 train and many other projects on the horizon.

“Everybody agrees that a trans-Hudson crossing, a gateway project, a No. 7 project is critical to the residents that live both in New York and in New Jersey, and for business and continued growth,” he said. “So it’s really about how do we fund those projects.”

Kirkos said other funding options include registration fees and adding new highway toll.

Wisniewski said raising the gas tax would cost the average driver 85 cents per day. He said the cost of inaction is greater.

“The average commuter in New Jersey is spending upwards of $600 a year in repairs because of our roads being in terrible condition,” Wisniewski told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.

East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella agrees something needs to be done, but he’s not sure hiking the gas tax is the answer.

“I worry about the trickle-down effect … especially on small businesses,” he said.

Transportation Department chief Jamie Fox was scheduled to appear at Tuesday’s event but canceled.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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