On Friday we reported that New Jersey State lawmakers announced a bi-partisan agreement to raise enough revenue to support a decade-long, $20 billion Transportation Trust Fund, and said their plans should be coupled with tax cuts.
Actually, released minutes apart in afternoon press releases and just 20 days before the trust fund ends its five-year authorization and 20 months after the state’s now-former transportation commissioner began warning of an impending “crisis” that could doom the roads and bridges New Jerseyans rely on every day a second proposal was released..
Both plans call for increasing the state’s taxes on oil companies, known as the gross petroleum product receipts tax.
Still, it was made clear the proposals would mean higher prices on the roads: The concept offered by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo and Republican Sen. Steve Oroho includes an increase in the petroleum taxes that, if passed onto the consumer, would mean a 23-cent increase in the state’s gas tax, to 37.5 cents per gallon.
The two lawmakers, who won support for their proposal from Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and other members of the lower house from across the state, argued the tax would still be lower than what is paid by motorists in New York and California. Oroho — the only Republican to support either measure — said it is also important to note that an estimated one-third of drivers who buy gas in New Jersey are from other states.
The other proposal, which comes from some senior Assembly Democrats, led by Speaker Vincent Prieto, is much more vague and does not say exactly how much the petroleum tax would need to be increased. It would likely be by a similar margin, given that both plans call for trust funds of the same size. The Assembly version, though, also calls for a “modernization” of how the state taxes jet fuel. Currently, jet fuel is taxed at 4 cents per gallon and only for quantities used during taxiing and takeoff.
Both of the plans announced Friday include similarly ambitious proposals for cutting taxes, notably by phasing out the estate tax, which generates some $600 million in annual revenue and is paid on inherited wealth worth more than $675,000. The Senate version would end the tax in just three years — two years faster than Sarlo and Oroho had previously called for. The Assembly measure would take four years.
Both proposals would boost the tax exemption threshold for retirement income and increase the earned income tax credit from 30 percent to 40 percent of the federal benefit.
The Assembly proposal does not include an income tax deduction for charitable contributions, one idea Republicans have been aggressively pursuing. The Sarlo and Oroho legislation would create a write-off for charitable contributions to specific organizations involved in social services. It would also allow a write-off for those who spend more than 1 percent of their income on the gas tax.
The lawmakers behind both proposals said it was critical that a new trust fund be authorized before the current one runs dry. They also said the status quo is unacceptable. After years of mismanagement, the trust fund is buried in debt and the current gas tax — not raised in more than two decades — can’t support any new construction.
Still, the plans are very similar, differing in just a few ways. There’s really only one notable difference when it comes to actual administration of the trust fund. The Prieto framework calls for doubling transportation aid to municipalities, from about $200 million to about $400 million per year. While Sarlo has previously said he wanted to do that, their plan makes no specific mention of increasing municipal aid.
Most advocates for infrastructure spending reacted positively to the proposals, saying both offer appear to offer realistic approaches to funding transportation projects for the next decade.