N.J. Lawmakers Offer Christie $20 Billion Highway Proposals

  • Three weeks before state’s transportation account hits bottom
  • Dueling legislation ‘unfortunate,’ governor tells reporters

New Jersey senators on Friday offered Republican Governor Chris Christie a 10-year transportation-spending plan that would raise fuel tariffs and phases out the estate tax, a possible bipartisan compromise three weeks before the state’s highway fund runs dry.

A second proposal, by Assembly Democrats, called for the same spending amount, though with a higher petroleum-products gross receipts tax, charged to refiners and distributors, and an unspecified change in jet-fuel tax. The governor called the bills’ variations, and apparent lack of agreement among lawmakers, “unfortunate.”

“I’m tired of playing marriage counselor,” he told reporters in Asbury Park. “I shouldn’t have to mediate between them.”

Under the Senate version of the Transportation Trust Fund reauthorization, taxes on gasoline and diesel at the wholesale level, if passed to motorists, would amount to 23 cents per gallon, a 58 percent increase. Owners of vehicles powered by electricity, hydrogen or other non-petroleum sources would be charged a $150 fee.

Only Alaska pays less than New Jersey’s 14.5-cents-per-gallon levy. Voters in November will decide whether the state constitution should be amended to dedicate all the revenue to support $20 billion in highway spending over 10 years. The five-year, $8 billion authorization expires June 30.

Disagreements between the two legislative houses led to a months-long delay of a financial rescue of Atlantic City, the casino resort that was on the brink of bankruptcy. Christie last month signed a bill giving the municipality five months to right its finances.

Christie, a 53-year-old Republican in his second term, has said he wouldn’t raise fuel taxes unless New Jerseyans, with the highest property taxes among U.S. states, get some other relief. The Senate legislation would repeal the estate tax in 2019, establish an income-tax reduction for charitable contributions and increase exemptions for retirement income. The Assembly, in addition to scrapping the estate burden, would increase the earned income tax credit.

“This is a robust transportation capital plan that will double county and municipal transportation aid to hold down property taxes, fund the Hudson-Bergen and Camden-Glassboro light rail extensions, and expand rail freight funding to deal with the doubled cargo that the giant Panamax super freighters will be bringing into Port Newark once the Bayonne Bridge is raised,” Senator Paul Sarlo, a sponsor and Democrat from Wood-Ridge, said in a statement.

Another sponsor, Republican Senator Steve Oroho from Franklin in Sussex County, said the plan would be a boost for New Jersey, whose economy is linked to access to interstate highways and rail, plus international airports and ocean terminals.

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