Freeze on transportation projects likely to stretch into fall, Sweeney says

NorthJersey.com- A statewide freeze on transportation projects is likely to stretch into the fall and may not be resolved until after the November elections, dealing a blow to a state packed with commuters, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Tuesday.

Governor Christie ordered the shutdown of most transportation projects in July. If Sweeney's prediction comes true, New Jersey residents would go at least four months without seeing progress on hundreds road upgrades, repairs to decaying bridges and other transit projects.

In an interview with The Record’s editorial board, Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County, said lawmakers and Christie have not made progress on a deal to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund.

Sweeney said he has secured 26 of 27 votes needed to pass a road plan in the Senate with a veto-proof majority. But the Assembly is not doing enough to secure more votes, Sweeney said, and Christie is not budging on his own demands.

The transportation-funding crisis may not be resolved until after the elections on Nov. 8, Sweeney predicted. "I could be wrong," he added.

Christie ordered a statewide shutdown of transit projects in July when he and the Senate reached a stalemate on how to pay for major transit projects in upcoming years.

The governor supports a plan that passed in the Assembly, which would raise the state gas tax from 14.5 cents to 37.5 cents a gallon, but also cut the sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent to ease the blow on taxpayers.

That plan would blow a hole in future budgets after Christie leaves office, according to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, leaving the state with $1.7 billion less in yearly revenue after being phased in over several years. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat who sponsored Christie's plan in June, no longer supports it.

"Are we closer? No," Sweeney said. "The governor still wants what I consider way too much in tax cuts."

A competing plan from the Senate would cost $550 million a year after being phased in. It would institute several tax breaks for veterans and retirees, and cut the estate tax, which applies to people who leave behind more than $675,000 in assets. In exchange, the Senate plan would also raise the gas tax from 14.5 cents to 37.5 cents a gallon. By using the added gas tax revenue and borrowing funds, the state could spend $20 billion over 10 years on transit upgrades, Sweeney said,

Sweeney estimated the shutdown is costing the state economy $9 million a week in unrealized economic gains, citing figures from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Sweeney said he has 23 of 24 Democrats supporting his plan in the Senate, along with three Republicans: Dawn Marie Addiego, Steven Oroho and Joe Kyrillos. The Senate could be passing the plan after Labor Day, but the bigger lift will be garnering a veto-proof majority in the Assembly, said Sweeney, a likely candidate for governor next year.

"They're not doing anything," Sweeney said of the Assembly. "They should be working their caucus as hard as we're working ours."

[See Original Article Here]