TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued an executive order late Thursday directing state road projects to cease, after the state Senate decided not to vote on a gas tax compromise to keep the fund going.
Some lawmakers said the move was political in nature. But as CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported, Christie said he had no other choice.
Under the order, plans for an orderly shutdown of all projects supported by the state’s Transportation Trust Fund must be prepared by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, and all ongoing work supported by the fund must halt according to those plans.
The stoppage would only be on regular jobs and emergency work can’t be stopped. Work that is paid in full continues, according to Christie’s office.
The trust fund has $85 million left in it to pay for the emergency work through August 1st. That is according to testimony from transportation officials.
According to the DOT, any work that needs to be done that could impact public safety — like repairing downed traffic signals or other system malfunctions — will be handled as necessary. Work will also continue on projects not funded by the Transportation Trust Fund.
In a statement issued late Thursday night, Christie squarely blamed Senate Democrats for the order. The state Senate on Thursday declined to vote on a deal between Christie and the state Assembly to hike the gas tax by 23 cents while cutting the sales tax in New Jersey.
“Senate Democrats are clearly conflicted over how to appease their public and private-sector union masters, because their union masters also are divided over the bipartisan tax fairness solution that passed the Assembly,” Christie said in the statement. “The Senate’s inaction ignored the benefits the package would bring to the overburdened taxpayers of New Jersey, who would benefit daily from the sales tax cut it would provide and the retirement income tax elimination for 81 percent of senior citizens.”
And later Friday, Democrats accused Christie of playing politics to look like a tax-cutting governor as Donald Trump vets him as a possible running mate.
Some New Jersey residents agreed.
“I have no doubt there is a probably some type of political motivation behind it,” said John Fortunato of Secaucus.
In his statement, Christie said he issued the executive order to protect residents, because the order does not allow any kind of money to be taken out of the trust fund for regular road projects – only necessary ones. The move, Christie said, prevents the fund from getting quickly depleted.
Lawmakers said that money should keep emergency construction going through Aug. 1, until all sides come up with a deal.
For now, lawmakers and the governors are on vacation, hoping to drill into the gas tax issue after the Fourth of July.
“I think they should raise the gas tax — I mean, what tax do you want to raise?” said Dan Mitchell of Jersey City. “I consider it a sin tax. We use so much, why not raise the gas tax?”
Real estate agent Monique Amabile said a gas tax increase will literally drive her out of New Jersey.
“I drive for a living, taking people from Hudson County to Bergen County to Essex, and this is going to impact my industry tremendously,” she said.
Christie had proposed raising the gas tax to 37.5 cents a gallon. The sales tax would gradually be reduced to 6 percent and there would be a cut in retirement income taxes.
It seemed like a done deal between the Republican governor and Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), until Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) stepped in.
The Democrats, who comprise the majority in both houses, said the sales tax would put a huge hole in the budget. Both Republicans and Democrats agree – a gas tax hike is inevitable.
But some Democrats believe the plan approved by Christie will hurt the poor and middle class. They say the sales tax cut will lead to a budget deficit, wiping out crucial programs.
Some Democrats further said there’s no tax on food or clothing, so the governor is setting up the rich to benefit on big purchases.
Christie said the gas tax by 23 cents would cost the average driver around $100 a year, Christie says, while cutting the sales tax would mean more than $400 in annual savings.
Sweeney had said Thursday that he planned sitting down with Christie to come up with a compromise before August 1, when all road projects were cease before Christie issued the executive order.
Back in April, acting New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer said the Transportation Trust Fund would likely have enough cash to carry it beyond the start of the new fiscal year, which began on Friday. But he said it would not make it too deep into the summer.
CBS2 asked for a list of project shutdowns. A representative of Christie’s office told CBS2 the list will come out next week.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 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.)