New Jersey Reaches Stalemate in Transportation and Construction Funding
Back in early July, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered a shutdown of all state-funded construction projects because the government’s Transportation Trust Fund ran out of money. Christie told laid-off workers that the moratorium would last for at least one week.
It’s now been more than 40 days since the Governor’s order, and state senators say that the closure might extend until after election season in November since officials haven’t been able to reach an agreement on how to fund future projects.
Construction season in the northeast usually winds down with the colder months, which means many laid-off New Jersey construction workers might not see another paycheck until March.
“We can’t just wait for the Senate to act whenever they feel like it,” said Roger Ellis, a union lobbyist for local workers. “We need action now.”
Ellis’ union and others staged a protest outside the offices of state senators, bearing signs with messages like “Do Your Job So We Can Do Ours.”
The impasse in New Jersey’s state senate revolves around competing plans to raise revenue without burdening taxpayers. A proposed bill to increase the gas tax by 23 cents — the first raise since 1988 — has been countered by Christie and Senate Republicans with an accompanying one percent decrease in state sales tax to offset citizens’ costs.
“I’m the first governor in 27 years to publicly say I was for a gas tax increase,” Christie said. “I’m ready to sign a gas tax increase into law to be able to sustainably fund the Transportation Trust fund. Pass the bill and put it on my desk. I wish I could do it by myself. If I could it would be done already.”
However, state Senate Democrats say that lowering the sales tax would cut government revenue by $1.9 billion over the next five years, adding to an already sizable debt. Expenses for construction and transportation needs can be particularly high in an industry where paint and coating products alone generated $2.3 billion in exports in 2014, the highest level in 10 years.
Yet, the Governor does not appear worried about the state’s infrastructure.
“The roads are fine,” Christie said. “I’ve negotiated with these same cast of characters for a very long time, and we’ll get there.”