Source: Excerpted from NJBiz -
Here’s a surprise to no one: At last week’s 100th annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, the Transportation Trust Fund was on the tip of many people’s tongues.
Just like it was last year, and for some, the year before that as well.
It started with a panel last Wednesday featuring the state’s legislative leaders. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) referred to the TTF crisis as the No. 1 priority heading into the upcoming lame duck legislative session.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) mostly agreed with him, adding that while the much-discussed gas tax solution may be politically unpopular, it’s inevitable and necessary.
Republicans didn’t refute the need for some sort of a tax hike to help restore the TTF, but, as they have repeatedly done in the past, brought up the need for some sort of correlating tax decrease, such as an elimination of the estate or inheritance tax.
“At this point, I will settle for any discussion for a lower tax, right here, right now,” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said.
Quipping that he is beginning to feel like “Bernie Sanders on the right,” Bramnick said that without some sort of decrease, he’s concerned with what type of message New Jersey is sending to the rest of the country by continuing to hike taxes.
“Why don’t we talk about some tax that we can lower? … People are running for cover in this state,” Bramnick said.
While legislative leaders are now agreeing to work together on a fix, most of last week’s rhetoric ended there. Sure, they all hope that a solution will be realized quickly, but no one is ready to say the state won’t be pressing up against next year’s June deadline, searching for an eleventh-hour deal.
Sources within the business community say that’s unacceptable, especially given the prolonged nature of the TTF debate over the last two years.
A more desired deadline? By budget season, sources say.
The following day at the conference, a sparsely attended morning panel also debated the issue, again offering more hope that a solution will be reached as opposed to details on how one would be achieved.
“At the end of the day we have to find a solution and we’re committed to doing that,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Westfield).
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) did mention his proposal of raising the gas tax by 25 cents per gallon, an idea that was met with some audible groans from the audience.
But the Republican-favored notion that a gas tax increase should be tied to a decrease somewhere else in the budget is one that is lost on Wisniewski.