Christie to Dems on fixing N.J. road fund: Where's your plan?

NJ.com- With the clock winding down on funding the Transportation Trust Fund and Atlantic City's financial collapse averted for the time being, Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday he expects the New Jersey Legislature is ready to turn its attention to finding money for road, bridge and rail improvements in the state.

"Often the Legislature can't do more than one meaningful thing at a time," Christie said at a news conference promoting charter schools. "We finished Atlantic City on Friday, then there was a holiday weekend. And I suspect that they're going to get to work now on the Transportation Trust Fund."

The governor has said it's up to the Democratic-controlled Legislature to present a funding scheme for the fund, which is scheduled to run out of money this summer. Christie's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 doesn't identify a source of funding for the trust fund, which pays for statewide infrastructure projects. 

Democratic lawmakers have set their sights on an increase in the state's gasoline tax that, along with borrowing, would replenish the fund for several years, but Assembly and Senate leaders have yet to agree on a formal plan.

"All I've heard from Democrats is that they want to raise the gas tax. Well, if they want to they should go on record and propose a bill raising the gas tax," Christie said. "Haven't seen that yet, have we? Governor can't do that, can't raise the gas tax on my own even if I wanted to. Not inclined to, but even if I wanted to, I couldn't."

Christie said Wednesday he didn't understand why Democratic lawmakers, who have supported increased taxes on corporations and millionaires, are gun shy about moving on the gas tax. 

Democrats previously have said everyone, including Christie, needs to hold hands and "jump off the cliff" together. 

Christie, meanwhile, stressed again Wednesday that he won't consider a gas tax hike without offsetting tax cuts elsewhere, a tradeoff he coined as "tax fairness."

"I've outlined for them what would be necessary for me to even consider any increase in any other taxes. They know, they just don't want to say it," Christie said. "They know how unpopular it's going to be to raise taxes in this state, and so they keep saying 'Why doesn't the governor say it first?' Because I've been saying for seven years I'm not going to raise taxes. I've been consistent."

Lawmakers are considering a number of tax changes to meet Christie's demand for tax fairness, including eliminating the estate tax, creating a deduction for charitable giving, raising the tax threshold on retirement income and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers.

State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) said Wednesday the coming deadline doesn't pose a problem and funding for the trust fund hasn't been on his back burner.

"Restoring the Transportation Trust Fund has always been a top priority for me, no matter what other issues were being discussed," he said. "I was discussing the impending crisis long before others and remain ready and willing to negotiate a responsible, longterm plan that overall is fair to working class residents."

Luke Margolis, a spokesman for state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), said it's Christie who isn't stepping up to offer any solutions.

"So what's he waiting for?" Margolis said. "He likes to talk about leadership, well now is the time for him to step forward and offer his recommendation. We are anxiously awaiting his suggestions."

The governor also said a plan backed by a Republican state senator deserves some consideration.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) last week unveiled the details of her proposal to fund road projects without a tax hike. Her seven-year, $11.2 billion plan would be paid for with natural growth in tax revenues, savings from merging transportation agencies across the state, lowering the cost of public worker health benefits and raising fines for some motor vehicle violations.

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