New Jersey had a brutal fiscal year between a nearly $1.6 billion budget shortfall and the partial collapse of Atlantic City’s casino market, increasing the likelihood that when the Legislature returns in 2015, bills designed to ease the state’s financial strain will take priority.
Rebuilding the Transportation Fund
State legislators have urged a solution to avert the exhaustion of the Transportation Trust Fund, a roughly $2 billion fund constitutionally earmarked for the state’s desperately needed infrastructure repairs. A recent report from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that half of New Jersey’s bridges are in need of structural repairs, while a report from Reason Foundation, a free-market think tank, placed New Jersey 48th in a ranking of state highway systems.
The TTF was created in 1984 to fund the state’s infrastructure repairs through a combination of taxes, fees and bond issues, but has in recent years relied more on bonds, in keeping with Christie’s long-standing vow not to raise gasoline taxes. The Assembly’s Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee has said the fund will soon run out of money due to payments on $1.1 billion in bond debt, which could drain the TTF’s remaining balance as early as summer 2015.
The TTF is the rare political issue in which legislators from both parties have a compelling interest in finding a solution. Christie has recently deflected questions about whether his pledge not to increase the gas tax is still valid, fueling speculation that a hike may come in 2015.
In November, Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, announced his own legislative solution. A3816 would divert tax revenues from the sale of alternative-fuel vehicles to the TTF to supplement the inadequate gasoline taxes. The bill has not yet been voted out of committee.