New Jersey Transportation Funding- key elements of Senate bill.

The New Jersey state Senate adjourned on Monday before considering any proposals related to renewing transportation funding or cutting taxes. But the Senate is back in session tomorrow, setting the stage for what is expected to be another long day of negotiations.

At the heart of a new bill that was  passed by the state Assembly early Tuesday morning  is a proposed 1 percent reduction of New Jersey’s 7 percent sales tax.The cut would be phased in, starting at 0.5 percent next year and reaching the full 1 percent in 2018. It would come as part of a broader deal to renew the state Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) for another 8 years with a 23-cent gas tax hike.

The proposal featuring the sales-tax cut that has emerged this week actually is an alternative to another bipartisan plan that came out of the state Senate earlier this month.

That plan, sponsored by Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), also features a 23-cent gas-tax hike, but instead of a sales-tax cut it calls for phasing out New Jersey’s estate tax and making a series of other tax cuts. They include lifting state income-tax exemptions on pensions, 401(k) plans, and other sources of retirement income over the course of several years. The Sarlo-Oroho plan would cost an estimated $870 million once all the cuts were fully implemented.

The new proposal, backed by Governor Christie and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson), scraps most of the tax cuts that are included in the Sarlo-Oroho plan in exchange for the sales-tax reduction. It does, however, keep changes to retirement-income exemptions that the two senators proposed, adding another $200 million to the potential cost of the Christie-Prieto plan.

The Senate has yet to consider the proposal, but if it were to be enacted, the sales-tax cut would represent New Jersey’s first reduction of a broad-based tax since 1994. It would also come at a time when the state has been experiencing revenue problems, including a $600 million budget hole that had to be closed with a series of cuts and other adjustments just last month.

The budget impact of the proposed sales-tax cut would start out modestly at $376 million during the 2017 fiscal year. And because it is part of a broader plan that involves the gas-tax increase to shore up the TTF, the cut would initially free up roughly $350 million in sales-tax revenue that’s currently being used to prop up the deeply indebted trust fund.

Going forward, the impact of the sales-tax cut on the budget would rise to an estimated $1.6 billion once fully phased in during the 2019 fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. Because all of the more than $1 billion in annual revenue that would come in from the 23-cent gas-tax hike would be constitutionally dedicated to funding transportation projects,  the sales tax cut  would not be offset, leaving a gap on the state budget.

Supporters predict that gap would be closed by economic growth, but if that growth doesn’t materialize, the hole would have to be filled with spending cuts or other tax hikes since the state constitution requires a balanced budget.

Complicating the issue even further is a planned constitutional amendment, backed by Democratic legislative leaders and public-worker unions, that call’s for revenue growth to help fund a series of ramped-up state contributions to the presently underfunded public-employee pension system. If voters approve the amendment this fall, it would mandate spending on the pension payments to increase from $1.3 billion this fiscal year to over $3 billion just as the full impact of the sales tax-cut would take effect.

New Jersey’s sales tax is rooted in a 1966 law that established a 3 percent rate. That was increased to 5 percent in 1970, and to 6 percent in 1983. The rate was lifted to 7 percent in 1990 under then-Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, only to be reversed in a backlash in 1992.

Another increase restored the rate to 7 percent in 2006 under then-Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, but only after a six-day shutdown of state government. At the same time, the range of services that are subject to the sales tax was expanded, though New Jersey still offers exemptions for clothing, groceries and necessities.

Unlike many other states, New Jersey does not allow sales taxes to be levied at the local level. In fact, specially designated Urban Enterprise Zones allow many struggling urban areas to charge a lesser rate of 3.5 percent.

Notably, sales tax collections have been on the rise; while income tax is subject to significant volatility, the sales tax has been a steady performer for the state budget over the last several years. It generated $7.5 billion in revenue during the 2010 fiscal year, and $7.8 billion during the 2011 fiscal year. Sales tax collections then steadily improved from $8 billion during the 2012 fiscal year to $8.8 billion through the 2015 fiscal year. The latest projection for the current fiscal year, which ends at midnight tomorrow, is for $9.3 billion, and Christie’s administration is forecasting a $9.6 billion haul during the 2017 fiscal year.

Nuts and Bolts of New Jersey’s Proposed 10-year, $20B Infrastructure Funding

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.

N.J. Supreme Court upholds freeze on pension cost-of-living adjustments

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 6-to-1 Thursday that the state can continue to freeze cost-of-living adjustment payments to those collecting public pensions.

The decision upholds a 201l reform law to suspend the payments that was supported by Democrats and signed by Christie. According to the Associated Press, the ruling will save the state approximately $17.5 billion in added pension liabilities.

Thursday’s ruling received cautious optimism from Moody’s Investors Service, which said it “eliminates a major threat to the state’s fiscal stability, which is already challenged by narrow reserves and large, rapidly growing pension costs.”

“New Jersey’s finances have been more stable in recent years, and the state projects that 2016 reserves will remain on target and above prior years at $550 million,” Moody’s said. “However, reserves at this level will provide limited cushion against further budget volatility.”

Earlier this week, the Assembly Judiciary Committee advanced a measure that seeks to task voters with deciding on a constitutional amendment to require regular pension payments.

New Jersey Officials Close Out May with a Flourish

 

Atlantic City Bailout Bills Pass Both NJ Houses

New Jersey legislation that aims to help Atlantic City financially recover from poor gaming revenue and successful tax appeals now awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature, after passing both houses of the state Legislature on Thursday.

During their regular voting sessions, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly approved a pair of bills that would give city officials 150 days come up with a financial plan to avoid bankruptcy and would create a tax deferral arrangement for casinos.

The two Senate bills evolved from Senate and Assembly proposals that had been merged and advanced Monday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, giving rise to new bailout legislation that leaves collective bargaining agreements intact and gives officials of the struggling resort town more time to hash out its budget before state officials intervene.

The two points of contention had sparked showdowns between Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Bergen, and Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, but lawmakers hailed the latest versions of the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, or S1711, and the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan, memorialized in S1715.

The two sides had worked on a series of amendments to the Senate versions to bring them in line with the Assembly’s vision. For example, casinos are not allowed to opt out of the PILOT program, and the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act — formerly known as the “state takeover” bill, before Prieto and unions decried the stripping of the city’s autonomy — now extends early retirement incentives to all full-time employees to save money.

The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act won 32-5 approval in the Senate and 60-12 passage in the Assembly. The PILOT bill got 33-4 approval in the Senate and 61-12 passage in the Assembly.

Twelve casinos had made up 70 percent of annual property taxes in Atlantic City as of 2013. But competition from surrounding states and other factors have left the city with eight operating casinos, after four closed in 2014, and a tax base that dropped from $20.5 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion in 2015.

The dire situation prompted Christie in January 2015 to tap an emergency manager for the resort town, after which Moody’s Investors Service slashed the municipality’s bond rating.

The pressure to come up with a plan to avoid insolvency reached fever pitch in recent months as city officials braced for a shutdown and battled legal wars.

Previously, the state Department of Education sued the town to ensure its school district got its share of taxes, although a state court judge last month declined to freeze the city’s assets. Compounding the fiscal woes are $240 million the city allegedly owes to bondholders and $150 million for successful tax appeal, including $88 million allegedly owed to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Prieto and Sweeney locked horns again earlier this month, when Prieto said the Assembly was not going to consider the Senate’s state takeover, which was the only plan Christie had said he would endorse to fix the resort town.

NJ Assembly Passes $15 Minimum Wage Bill

The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday advanced legislation that would gradually boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour in phased increases over the next five years, an initiative touted by the chamber’s Democratic leaders as a tool to help reverse the trend of poverty in the state.

Unveiled in February, the bill previously passed the Assembly Labor Committee and now sits before the Senate after its 42-30-1 passage Thursday. The legislation heeds the call of the nationwide Fight for $15 movement and its advancement comes a month after New York and California signed the initiative into law.

Assembly Bill 15 would increase the state’s current base hourly rate of $8.38 to $10.10 at the start of next year and make incremental boosts annually from 2018 to 2021 until the minimum wage is $15

Stating their case for the proposal’s importance in the Garden State, the bill’s primary sponsors cited Legal Services of New Jersey’s estimates that the state is home to 2.8 million adults and 800,000 children living in poverty as of 2014, marking a 40 percent increase in the poor population since the recession of 2008, according to LSNJ estimates.

The take-home pay for a full-time minimum wage worker is less than $18,000 a year in a state that has among the highest costs of living in the country, the sponsors said.

The bill’s primary backers also include Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic/Bergen, and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex.

An identical Senate version of the legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, was advanced by that chamber’s Labor Committee last week.

Republican leaders have expressed opposition to the legislation. In statements issued when the Senate proposal was announced, Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove said seniors and small businesses would be hit particularly hard while Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean said the minimum wage increase — along with pushes to mandate paid sick leave and add more flexible leave and benefit options — would make life more unaffordable for all New Jerseyans.

The Ailing Transportation Trust Fund

With a crisis in Atlantic City apparently averted, Trenton’s attention will turn — after the Memorial Day weekend — to the virtually exhausted Transportation Trust Fund.

With competing schemes to revive the fund being floated, there will be plenty to argue about. And just to keep things interesting, lawmakers will also be pushing to wrap up a new state budget by the June 30 deadline.

The trust fund pays for more than $3 billion in annual road, bridge, and rail-network improvements, with money that comes from federal matching funds and New Jersey’s 10.5-cent per-gallon tax on gasoline and the its 4-cent per-gallon tax on the gross receipts of petroleum products. Revenue from the sales tax and highway tolls also help subsidize annual state spending of about $1.6 billion under a five-year financing plan that Christie put forward in 2011.

But money from the gas tax will be enough to service only the fund’s extensive debt starting July 1.

Up for debate: whether to create a new “tax-fairness package” that makes cut in the general budget to offset a gas-tax hike that is set aside of for transportation projects.

The alternative? A pay-as-you go system that trims existing budget lines but primarily relies on an expectation of tax revenue to grow each year.

The pay-as-you-go folks, led by Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) dug in launching a petition drive that’s intended to push back against the bipartisan tax-fairness package, which has gained momentum in the State House in recent weeks.

Gov. Chris Christie will also have a say, and over the next month the issue will likely put to a test two of his longest-standing records. He’s yet to approve a major tax increase since he took office early in 2010, and he’s yet to be overridden by a Legislature that’s controlled by Democrats, but not with veto-proof majorities.

Many in Trenton expect the issue will eventually be resolved with a bipartisan deal that will involve hiking either the 10.5-cent tax on gasoline, the 4-cent tax on petroleum products, or some combination of increases that will affect both levies. New Jersey has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation, which was last raised in 1988.

Democrats have been working diligently behind the scenes to secure votes for a gas-tax increase – which they’ve yet to define publicly – by offering up a series of tax cuts to entice Republicans into endorsing what’s being described as a broader “tax fairness” deal. They include proposals to phase out the estate tax over five years; increase current state income tax exemptions for retirement income like pensions and annuities; create a state income tax deduction for charitable contributions; and increase the state version of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

For his part, Christie hasn’t ruled out a gas-tax increase, but he also hasn’t clearly defined what he would like to see in any deal that could win his support. When asked about the issue by a woman calling into his monthly radio show on NJ 101.5 FM radio earlier this week, Christie said he expects to hear more from lawmakers now that they’ve resolved their differences on the Atlantic City rescue.

But Beck, the Monmouth County senator, has been clear in her opposition to a gas-tax increase. She’s launched an online petition to rally opposition that a recent Quinnipiac University poll measured to be 54 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters.

As part of a trust fund renewal plan that she’s put forward, Beck introduced two bills yesterday that are designed to help free up cash in the annual budget to pay for $1.6 billion in transportation upgrades each year through the 2023 fiscal year.

One bill seeks to save about $50 million annually by consolidating several state transportation agencies like New Jersey Transit and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. But the bulk of the new revenue would come from another, more controversial measure that would reduce healthcare benefits for public workers at all levels and then repurpose most of the savings for transportation projects.

Beck’s plan is also relying on some new borrowing and at least 3 percent growth in annual revenues. She would also raise additional funds by increasing motor-vehicle fines and diverting more money from the state’s Clean Energy Fund.

Her efforts drew support from the New Jersey chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization, which has been making phone calls to stoke grassroots opposition to a gas-tax hike.

But transportation advocates and public-worker unions criticized Beck’s proposal yesterday, questioning whether her revenue sources and forecasts are realistic.

Projections for 3 percent annual growth over seven years comes as the Christie administration was just forced to scale back its own tax-collection forecasts by a combined $1 billion for the current budget and the fiscal year that will begin on July 1. Growth has also been slow over the last decade, with revenues up just over 6 percent, from $31.2 billion during the 2007 fiscal year to a projected $33.2 billion for the current fiscal year.

Hospitals avoid new local-tax burden-Energy and Environment Bills Signed Into Law

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bipartisan proposal that would have required nonprofit hospitals to pay new fees to municipal governments to help cover the cost of police, fire, and other local services in exchange for maintaining the property-tax exemption they have long enjoyed. The bill was prompted by a landmark state tax-court ruling in 2014 that successfully challenged the property-tax exemption enjoyed by nonprofit Morristown Medical Center, given that it also operates several for-profit services at the same Morris County site.

The pocket veto encourages uncertainty where the bill could have secured the legal future of hospitals. Legislators intended their efforts to avoid similar lawsuits around the state, but with the veto the state may see an untimely increase in litigation.

The move was more of a disappointment than a surprise, legislators said.

Energy and Environment Bills Signed Into Law

S-2617/A-3944 (Cardinale/Garcia, McKeon, Auth, Eustace, Pinkin) – Requires DEP to adopt regulations to allow cultivation of commercial shellfish species in certain coastal and inner harbor waters for research, educational, or restoration purposes; requires community engagement process for revision thereof

S-2880/A-4704 (Lesniak, T. Kean/Diegnan, Wisniewski) – Provides up to $25 million in tax credits under Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program for certain infrastructure at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

S-3321/A-4927 (Smith, Van Drew, Bateman/Spencer, Rumana) – Authorizes DEP to require public access to waterfront and adjacent shoreline as condition of waterfront development approvals and CAFRA permits

A-1726wGR/S-308 (Eustace, Lagana, Mosquera, Vainieri Huttle, Wimberly/Gordon) – Amends “Flood Hazard Area Control Act” to require DEP to take certain actions concerning delineations of flood hazard areas and floodplains

A-1812/S-2717 (Mosquera, Mazzeo, Andrzejczak/Cruz-Perez, Oroho, Jones) – Extends protections of the new vehicle “lemon law” to new farm tractors purchased or leased in New Jersey

A-1958/S-1848 (Allen, Van Drew) – Concerns exemptions from permits for certain agricultural activities under “Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act”

A-2839/S-2620 (Burzichelli, Space, Phoebus/Oroho, Turner) – “New Jersey Rural Microenterprise Act”

A-3257wGR/S-2125 (Andrzejczak, Mazzeo, Burzichelli/Van Drew) – Provides that determination by county agriculture development board or State Agriculture Development Committee as to what qualifies as farm-based recreational activity in pinelands protection area is binding on Pinelands Commission

A-3850/S-2467 (DeAngelo, Eustace, Mazzeo, Pintor Marin, Benson/Turner, Singer) – Requires BPU to establish procedures allowing electric power and gas supplier customers to switch energy suppliers

Energy and Environment Bills  pocket vetoed

S-564/A-4186 (Smith, Bateman/Eustace, McKeon, Spencer, Benson) – Establishes “Solar Roof Installation Warranty Program” in EDA and transfers $2 million from societal benefits charge to initially fund program

S-1414/A-2405 (Smith, Bateman/Eustace, Benson, Johnson) – Concerns low emission and zero emission vehicles; establishes Clean Vehicle Task Force

SCS for S-1420/ACS for A-1603 (Beach, Whelan, Smith, Sweeney, Bateman, Thompson/Spencer, Eustace, Quijano, Wimberly) – Requires paint producers to implement or participate in paint stewardship program

S-2491/A-4069 (Smith/Danielsen, Pinkin, Benson) – Establishes position of State Oceanographer

S-2711/A-4128 (Smith, Whelan/Mazzeo, DeAngelo, Spencer, Singleton, McKeon, Danielsen, Johnson) –Permits BPU to approve qualified wind energy project; requires BPU to provide application periods for those projects

S-2769/AS for ACS for A-4197, 4206 (Smith, Bateman/Andrzejczak, McKeon, Spencer, Pintor Marin, Dancer, Vainieri Huttle) – Implements 2014 constitutional dedication of CBT revenues for certain environmental purposes; revises State’s open space, farmland, and historic preservation programs

S-3416/A-4808 (Lesniak, Sarlo/Eustace, Gusciora) – Prohibits possession, transport, import, export, processing, sale, or shipment of parts and products of certain animal species threatened with extinction

A-2586/S-1796 (DeAngelo, Quijano, Benson/Greenstein) – Establishes “Energy Infrastructure Study Commission”

A-4384/S-3145 (DeAngelo, Pintor Marin, Danielsen, Schaer, Johnson/Whelan) – Requires BPU to render decision on case within 12 months of final public hearing or hold another public hearing prior to deciding case

A-4763/SS for SCS for S-2973 (McKeon, Spencer, Pinkin/Smith, Bateman, Greenstein, Codey) – Revises “Electronic Waste Management Act”

A-4773/S-3146 (Eustace, Garcia, Gusciora/Lesniak) – Prohibits possession and transport of parts and products of certain animals at PANYNJ airports and port facilities

 

New Jersey Legislative Leadership Split Over Revenue Sources for Transportation Trust Fund

New Jersey is already one the nation’s most indebted states, ranking third behind only California and New York when it comes to net tax-supported debt, according to the latest version of the annual state debt report, which was released last year. And borrowing has gone up by roughly 50 percent in just the past decade.

Legislative leaders, nevertheless,  say they are close to reaching final agreement on a package whose key components will include as much as $2 billion in combined annual revenue from borrowing and a likely increase in state fuel taxes to support transportation funding. New Jersey needs a new plan for funding transportation projects in place by the middle of 2016.

Still Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson)  disagree over how much money should come from borrowing, how much from ‘pay as you go’ sources like higher taxes at the gas pump. In fact, determining exactly what share of the new funds should be generated from borrowing versus more readily available sources like taxes — what’s known as “pay-go” in public-finance circles — may well be the final sticking point.

“We have to start being mindful of that,” Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson) said yesterday in an interview with NJ Spotlight. Prieto said he’s been advocating for a robust pay-go component in the next long-term transportation-spending plan to ease the heavy reliance on borrowing. (Credit AP).

“It’s got to be a good balance,” he said. “I think that’s the key.” (Credit AP).

But Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) maintains that not all borrowing is bad.

That’s especially true when the project being funded is going to last for several decades, like a new bridge, he explained to observers in Trenton on Monday .

The problem with prior state transportation-spending plans is not that they used borrowing, but abused best borrowing practices, Sweeney said. For example, rather than hike the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased in more than two decades, former Gov. Jon Corzine and others simply refinanced debt for longer terms, adding more costs in the long run.

“What got screwed up here is they kept refinancing the money,” he said. (Credit AP).

Sweeney also talked about striking “a balance” between borrowing and pay-go financing, saying once he and Prieto can reach an agreement on that issue, many others, including how much state gas taxes will need to be increased to fund the new plan, should be resolved.

The outcome of their deliberations will be important for New Jersey motorists who are concerned about a gas-tax increase since every dollar that isn’t raised for new transportation projects from borrowing will likely need to be generated at the pump. Likewise, for state taxpayers concerned about the bottom line, taking on too much new borrowing could threaten New Jersey’s already weakend bond rating, thus adding to the costs the state incurs whenever it needs to generate revenue from bond sales.

Finding the right balance between pay-go and borrowing, according to transportation experts, is also an important factor for the government officials who are tasked on a daily basis with managing the projects funded by the state.

Right now, the state is relying heavily on revenue generated by taxes levied on gasoline purchases and the gross receipts of refineries and distributors to pay for transportation projects and to generate federal matching funds. Together, those two taxes total 14.5 cents for every gallon purchased. Funds from state highway tolls and the Port Authority have also been used in recent years to subsidize the trust fund.

But thanks to the heavy amount of borrowing for transportation that’s occurred in past years, all of the revenue that’s being raised by the gas taxes will have to be used to pay down the trust fund’s significant debt as of July 1, leaving no cash for new projects unless there’s an increase.

Christie authored the state’s latest long-term transportation-spending scheme, a five-year plan that will expire this year at the end of June. And when Christie rolled out that initiative back in 2011, he said it would allow for nearly $2 billion of the overall $8 billion in spending over the five-year term to be financed with pay-go revenue out of the annual state budget.

Doing so would also mean other states would be “looking at New Jersey as the model for restoring a state to fiscal health,” he said at the time.

But Christie never funded the broader pay-go goals that were included in his original transportation-spending plan, except for an initial $76 million contribution in the first year. To make it through the final year of his plan this year, when pay-go financing would have totaled more than $600 million, Christie’s administration is instead relying on draining of $281 million in cash balances, the repayment of a $241.5 million loan to New Jersey Transit, and another $627 million in new borrowing.

With Governor Christie now focusing much of his time in recent months on his bid for the White House, this time the legislative leaders have taken it upon themselves to craft the next transportation-spending plan. Nevertheless, Sweeney and Prieto know that any agreement they reach can hardly be considered a done deal. The proposal will ultimately go to Gov. Chris Christie, who has final say. Both legislative leaders say they also have to keep in mind that Christie is not likely to look favorably upon a big tax-hike proposal in the middle of a GOP presidential primary.

What Tuesday Means for New Jersey

There are only 18 Democratic governors left across the nation, and the survivors have some theories about why Democrats have been swept out of statehouses all over the country in recent years.

Many of the remaining Democrats are blaming an unpopular president.

In New Jersey on the other hand Democrats picked up four Assembly seats, widening their advantage to 52-28. The Senate is also controlled by Democrats.

State Republicans’ also have theories why New Jersey is bucking the national trend with remaining Republicans blaming an unengaged Governor Christie.

Overall, incumbents were widely re-elected to the Assembly with only a handful of Republican legislators losing to their Democratic challengers. Democrats picked up 4 seats bringing their total to 52, their largest majority in over 30 years. Republicans held onto 28 seats (down from 32). Below are brief summaries of races where at least one new individual was elected to the General Assembly.

–        First Legislative District: ATLANTIC (part) – CAPE MAY – CUMBERLAND (part) Counties

Republican incumbent Sam Fiocchi was defeated by Democrats R. Bruce Land. Democratic incumbent Bob Andrzejczak was re-elected.

–        Fifth Legislative District: CAMDEN (part) – GLOUCESTER (part) Counties

Democrats Arthur Barclay and Patricia Egan Jones handily defeated their Republican opponents, Kevin Ehret and Keith Walker. They will replace outgoing Democratic Assemblymen Gilbert Wilson and Angel Fuetes.

–        Eighth Legislative District: ATLANTIC (part) – BURLINGTON (part) – CAMDEN (part) Counties

Republican Joe Howarth joins his running mate incumbent Maria Rodriguez-Gregg in the Assembly. Both ran unopposed. Howarth is replacing retiring Republican Assemblyman Christopher Brown.

–        Eleventh Legislative District: MONMOUTH (part) Counties

Democrats Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey narrowly beat their incumbent Republican competitors Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande.

–        Sixteenth Legislative District: HUNTERDON (part) – MERCER (part) – MIDDLESEX (part) – SOMERSET (part) Counties

At the time of writing, Democrat Andrew Zwicker was leading incumbent Republican challenger Donna Simon by 29 votes, making it the tightest Assembly race. However, provisional ballots are still being counted, a process that will last until Friday November 6. From there, the losing candidate has until November 14 to file for a  recount. Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli was re-elected.

–        Twenty-Second Legislative District: MIDDLESEX (part) – SOMERSET (part) – UNION (part) Counties

Democrat James Kennedy was elected to replace retiring Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender. Democratic incumbent Jerry Green was re-elected.

–        Twenty-Fourth Legislative District: MORRIS (part) – SUSSEX – WARREN (part) Counties

Republican Gail Phoebus was elected to replace retiring Republican Assemblywoman Alison McHose. Incumbent Republican F. Parker Space was re-elected.

–        Thirty-First Legislative District: HUDSON (part) Counties

With no incumbents running for re-election in the district, Democrats Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti handily defeated their Republican opponents. They are replacing retiring Democratic Assemblymen Jason O’Donnell and Charles Mainor.

–        Thirty-Third Legislative District: HUDSON (part) Counties

Democrat Annette Chaparro was elected to replace retiring Democratic Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia. Incumbent Democrat Raj Mukherji was re-elected.

In terms of county elections below is a brief summary of newly elected individuals and ballot question results:

–        Atlantic County

Republican Maureen Kern was elected as the 2nd District’s Freeholder. The Republicans swept the elections in Atlantic County and were able to easily maintain their majority on the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Incumbents Dennis Levinson, James Curcio, Frank Formica, and James Bertino were re-elected.

–        Burlington County

Republicans Kate Gibbs and Ryan Peters were elected to the Board of Chosen Freeholders, defeating Democratic incumbents Aimee Belgard and Joanne Schwartz. As such, Democrats lost their majority on the board.

–        Camden County

Democrats Susan Angulo and William Moen Jr. join Democratic incumbents Jeffrey Nash and Jonathan Young Sr. on the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Camden also elected Democrat Gilbert “Whip” Wilson to the position of Sheriff, replacing outgoing Sheriff Charles Billingham.

–        Cumberland County

Newly elected Democrat James Quinn joins Cumberland’s Board of Chosen Freeholders. Incumbent Joseph Derella was re-elected. Overall, Democrats preserve their 4-3 majority.

–        Middlesex County

74% of individuals voted yes to the Public Question “Shall the governing body of the County of Middlesex prioritize funding to programs which provide transportation services for individuals in need of dialysis, chemotherapy or other regular medical services as a means of offsetting recent federal and state funding cuts?”

–        Morris County

Republican newcomers Christine Myers and Deborah Smith, and incumbent Republican John Cesaro were (re) elected to the Morris’ Board of Chosen Freeholders.

–        Passaic County

Democrats swept Passiac County’s Freeholder elections. Newly elected Cassandra Lazzara and incumbents John Bartlett and Hector Lora allowed Democrats to retain control of the board.

–        Salem County

Republican Melissa DeCastro and Democrat Charles V. Hassler remain in an extremely tight race, with DeCastro leading by 11 votes. At the time of writing, provisional ballots were being counted. Regardless of the outcome of this race, Republicans will retain control of the board.

So, the New Jersey Legislature now enters a lame-duck session after this week’s elections with several key questions still needing to be answered.

Among them: – Funding the New Jersey Pension- Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield Omnicre- Out-of-Network, and most critically– Funding for the Transportation Trust Fund.

Serious conversations about raising New Jersey’s gas tax to head off a looming transportation-funding crisis were put on hold earlier this year, so lawmakers could focus on the Assembly elections that were just held in all 40 legislative districts earlier this week. But now with those contests in the rearview mirror, the talk in Trenton has shifted back to transportation.

Lawmakers from both parties said yesterday that they are willing to strike a bipartisan deal to renew the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for road, bridge, and rail improvements throughout the state, using revenue from the gas tax and other sources, including from borrowing.

The lawmakers also seem to be in agreement that any deal they strike on transportation funding will likely have to involve raising the state’s 14.5-cent gas tax to bring in new revenue, since all of the money coming in from the gas tax is going to pay down debt. The trust fund is also up against its borrowing limit and only has enough money to make it until the end of June 2016.

There are also signs of hope that lawmakers in the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats, will find common ground on the transportation-funding issue as well. They recently came together to pass a resolution supporting a plan to share costs with the federal government on a new Hudson River train tunnel. But how to convince Christie, who has signed an anti-tax pledge as a GOP presidential candidate this year, to agree to a tax hike in the middle of his presidential campaign remains a big concern. When the issue came up during his monthly call-in radio show on NJ 101.5 FM earlier this week, Christie was noncommittal, saying only that he hasn’t dismissed a gas-tax hike outright.

Lastly, the State must deal with Governor Christie’s Cabinet/Staff Changes that include:

  • Richard Badolato was formally nominated as Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance. He has served as Acting Commissioner since August of this year.
  • Ford Scudder, COO of Laffer Associates, will be nominated to the position of State Treasurer. Current Acting Treasurer, Robert Romano, will be responsible for management and operation of Treasury activities.
  • Richard Hammer, Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, will become that department’s Acting Commissioner. He replaces Jamie Fox.

With it all, there remains the question of how committed Christie will be to solving New Jersey issues as long as he remains in the hunt as a presidential hopeful. Christie is pushing in New Hampshire, where the primary is not held until February.

Martin J. Milita, Jr. Esq., is senior director at Duane Morris Government Strategies, LLC.

Duane Morris Government Strategies (DMGS) supports the growth of organizations, companies, communities and economies through a suite of government and business consulting services. The firm offers a range of government relations and public affairs services, including lobbying, grant writing; development finance consulting, media relations management, grassroots campaigning and community outreach. Milita works at the firm’s Trenton and Newark New Jersey offices.

Visit his blog at: https://martinmilita1.wordpress.com

Follow him on twitter: @MartinMilita1

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