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Funding transportation needs without higher taxes or tolls
Written by Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini   
Monday, 02 February 2009 21:08

For a state that leads the nation in how much it spends on its roads and how much it takes from its taxpayers to do so, we have very little to show for it. In fact, New Jersey’s roads and bridges both received a “D” grading from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its latest infrastructure report card.

While that news may be shocking, it isn’t surprising. Not for a state that has taxed, spent and borrowed its way into an economic abyss for the past seven years. As the state continues to shed jobs at an alarming rate – our 7.1 percent unemployment rate is the highest its been in nearly 15 years – and our highest in the nation property taxes and debt continue to climb, we also face the daunting task of fixing our rapidly declining transportation system.

angelini
Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini
We agree with Governor Corzine and legislative leaders that investing in and maintaining a safe and reliable transportation infrastructure is vital to our state’s economy, environment and health. Where we strongly disagree is how to accomplish that.

What Governor Corzine and Democrats don’t understand is that not every problem New Jersey faces justifies higher taxes, more spending or increased borrowing. Last year, the governor circumvented the people and the Legislature and had the boards who control the toll road authorities increase tolls on the Parkway, Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway.

That was the governor’s solution to funding the state’s transportation projects. And if that wasn’t enough pain for our commuters, last month he said a gas tax hike is also on the table.

Legislative Republicans choose to travel a very different road. In May  2008, we offered and continue to advocate for our “Common Sense Plan for An Affordable New Jersey” which, among other proposals, includes a fiscally-sound plan to fund the state’s transportation needs – without the need to raise tolls, the gas tax or other taxes and fees.

We support a constitutional amendment to dedicate $500 million in existing annual motor vehicle fees to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) to provide $1.9 billion of annual state transportation projects in each of the next five years and to provide the full match to obtain federal funding for the trans-Hudson tunnel project.

More than $1 billion of this program would be responsible, pay-as-you-go spending. The loss of motor vehicle fees to the General Fund would be offset by $500 million of immediate, structural and permanent state spending reductions.

Specifically, our initiative proposes to constitutionally dedicate $500 million of existing motor vehicle fees, offset with $500 million of structural budget savings, to:

(1) Fully fund an annual $1.9 billion TTF  program through 2014 with $1.5 billion of pay-as-you-go funding;

(2) Provide the full state match for the trans-Hudson tunnel project;

(3) Leave the TTF with a $700 million surplus account and an uncommitted $300   million annual revenue stream in 2014; and

As is par for the course, Governor Corzine continues to play politics and refuses to consider our plan. Instead, Democrats prefer to exhaust all available budgetary funds on questionable and wasteful spending and then raise an existing tax or create a new one to pay for transportation needs.

Republicans don’t. Not only have we developed a pragmatic plan to fund transportation projects, but we’ve identified $1.32 billion in wasteful spending as well. If state leaders are looking for money to fund our transportation needs, they don’t need to look far.

For instance, favored Abbott School Districts continue to receive up to 20 percent increases in state aid despite audits that show past funding has been poorly spent. Favored municipalities also continue to receive more than $100 million from a rudderless grant program that’s been strongly criticized in State audits while hundreds of patronage employees remain on the payroll. And dozens of unaccountable or low priority programs remain funded simply because they have always been funded.

While a new $500 million permanent dedication of funding for transportation projects would allow for all transportation projects – even those on the so-called “tier 2 list” (traffic congestion mitigation projects in suburban and rural areas and mass transportation improvements) to proceed, Governor Corzine and the state Department of Transportation should also review planned projects and seek alternative funding or scale them back.

Furthermore, how is it that New Jersey is contributing 20 percent of the cost to the $8.7 billion trans-Hudson tunnel while New York isn’t contributing a dime? Governor Corzine is giving them a free pass. As the head of our state, he should insist that New York pay its share.

The Republican’s transportation proposal is a viable, responsible plan that serves the best interests of our residents, not politicians. But that, sadly, is a stumbling block in Trenton. Government shouldn’t be looking to taxpayers to keep carrying our transportation burden through increased taxes or tolls. It’s a road to nowhere that far too many of our residents have been forced to travel year after year.

Assemblywoman Angelini represents the 11th Legislative District

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