N.J. Layoffs Mount as Standoff Over Roadwork Funding Persists

  • Christie halted state-funded road and rail projects on July 8
  • Democratic lawmakers seeking votes to override expected veto

New Jersey construction workers, engineers and even gas-station retailers urged legislators to approve a gasoline-tax increase to fund transportation projects and end a roadwork shutdown that has left thousands without jobs.

Legislation opposed by Republican Governor Chris Christie passed the Senate budget committee Friday. The panel’s chairman, Democratic Senator Paul Sarlo, told reporters he’s still working to get the 27 votes needed in his chamber to override an expected veto by Christie, and wasn’t sure whether the measures would be voted on at Monday’s session.

The governor on July 8 shut down more than $3.5 billion of road and rail projects after the Senate rejected a funding plan worked out between him and the Assembly. The Senate and Assembly later agreed on a compromise that Christie called “dead on arrival.” Sarlo said he’s not aware of talks between the governor and lawmakers to reach a new deal.

Bob Briant, chief executive officer of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey, told lawmakers Friday that the stoppage has resulted in a “tremendous amount of layoffs.” Joe Fiordaliso, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New Jersey, said “several hundred” construction inspectors have been affected by the halt, and a sustained shutdown could result in more than 2,100 jobs lost, he said.

The state’s 10.5-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax, the second-lowest in the U.S., hasn’t been increased since 1988.

‘In a Mess’

Even Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience Store-Automotive Association, was pushing for the tax boost -- after years of opposing one -- because of the urgency of the situation. He said the state had no alternative.

“We’re in a mess,” Risalvato told lawmakers. “The longer you wait, the worse this gets.”

The compromise between Senate and Assembly leaders would raise the tax by 23 cents a gallon to help fund a $20 billion, 10-year transportation-spending plan. It doesn’t include a provision, favored by Christie last month, to drop the sales tax to 6 percent from 7 percent. 

Three-fourths, or $15 billion, of the spending would be through borrowing. Currently, all gas-tax revenue that goes toward the Transportation Trust Fund is used to pay off past borrowing.

To soften the blow of higher prices at the pump, the plan would increase the earned income tax credit, raise the income-tax exclusion on retirement income, phase out the estate tax, provide a deduction for motorists who earn $100,000 or less and allow veterans to exempt $3,000 of income.