Governor Chris Christie is cutting highway and mass-transit spending to avoid a tax increase that could harm a potential 2016 presidential run, New Jersey Democratic lawmakers said.
The administration will spend $175 million less than planned for fiscal 2015 and $125 million less for the budget year that starts July 1, Senator Paul Sarlo, a Democrat from Wood-Ridge who is chairman of the budget committee, said at a hearing in Trenton on Tuesday.
The adjusted two-year Transportation Trust Fund expenditure will be $2.2 billion, Sarlo said. Christopher Santarelli, a spokesman for the treasury, attributed the difference to spending requests at amounts less than authorized, and said no projects were at risk.
“New Jersey’s needs come second to his presidential ambitions,” Senator Linda Greenstein, a Democrat who sits on the committee, said in an e-mailed statement after the hearing. Cutting spending allows Christie to postpone any decisions on raising revenue “until after the Republican presidential primaries,” she said.
Christie, a 52-year-old Republican who has said he will announce this year whether he is running, has resisted Democrats’ calls to raise the 10.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax. All of that revenue now pays for Transportation Trust Fund debt, leaving nothing for new projects.
Though the state had expected to run through its $8 billion Transportation Trust Fund short of the five years Christie had projected, New Jersey has enough for roads, bridges and rail to last through June 30, 2016, the governor said in a radio interview last month.
Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff and David Rosen, the nonpartisan legislative budget officer, testified this week at budget hearings that the fund will last through its authorized term.
Kevin Roberts and Brian Murray, spokesmen for Christie, didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment. Santarelli said the Transportation Trust Fund’s capital plan hasn’t changed.
“The discussion at today’s budget committee hearing related to cash-flow needs, not project authorizations,” Santarelli said in an e-mail.
Sarlo said lawmakers learned of the reduced expenditures just two weeks ago and called the decision “unconscionable in a state whose roads and bridges rank among the worst in the nation.”