NJ Senate Dems Forge Gas Tax Plan; Christie Says No Way

NEWARK (AP) -

The state’s Democratic legislative leaders announced Friday they have agreed on a new plan to fund transportation projects by boosting the state’s gas tax and cutting other taxes, a proposal immediately criticized by Gov. Chris Christie’s office as containing only “vague generalities.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced the plan Friday, a day after Christie offered his own plan.

Christie’s press secretary Brian Murray said Sweeney and Prieto “have not shared the specific details of their joint proposal with the Governor beyond the vague generalities contained in their press release,” and said Christie needed more specifics to determine whether the gas tax hike and corresponding cuts would provide tax fairness for residents.

Lawmakers and Christie have been locked in a battle over how to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which has been projected to run out of money early next month. Christie already ordered hundreds of rail, road and bridge projects halted two weeks ago.

“If we don’t correct this, you’re going to have thousands of people out of work,” Sweeney said. “And it will have a ripple effect.”

Earlier this month, a proposal backed by Christie and Prieto that included a reduction of the state sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent was derailed by Sweeney.

Sweeney’s and Prieto’s new plan calls for phasing out the estate tax over 3 1/2 years, increasing a tax credit for the working poor, raising the retirement and pension income tax exemption and offering a tax savings for veterans. It would also give motorists who earn up to $100,000 an annual income tax deduction of up to $500.

New Jersey currently has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation at 14.5 cents per gallon. Christie has expressed willingness to raise the gas tax if it is balanced by other tax cuts.

Sweeney said Friday he was confident of his chances to gain a veto-proof majority in both houses, and said the matter could come to a vote as early as August 1.

“Do I expect [the governor] to accept it right now? No,” Sweeney said. “But let’s see what happens when it passes both houses.”

The 23-cent-per-gallon increase in the legislators’ proposal would make New Jersey’s gas tax roughly equal to that of Connecticut, which has the sixth-highest at 37.51 cents.