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Future of Transportation Trust Fund — 'we're really at a critical point' — is topic of discussion at conference

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An increase in the gas tax could be one way to help the Transportation Trust Fund.
An increase in the gas tax could be one way to help the Transportation Trust Fund. - (NJBIZ FILE PHOTO)

Having accrued billions of dollars in debt over the past three decades, New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund is in need of a major lifeline, says Robert Briant, Jr., CEO of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association.

Speaking on a panel Wednesday in New Brunswick hosted by the state’s chapter of NAIOP, a commercial real estate organization, Briant said the fund, which is needed to pay for the state’s transportation infrastructure projects, had reached a “crisis” stage in its funding.

“We’re really at a critical point,” Briant said.

An increase in New Jersey’s gas tax has been an idea that some legislators have occasionally mulled over the years, but it has fallen short of widespread support. The state’s 10.5 percent gas tax has not been changed since 1988.

Briant estimates that a 28-cent increase would be needed to move the trust fund back towards a positive direction.

Just this past March, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) announced that he would be proposing an annual 5 cent increase in the gas tax over a three-year period, a move he said at the time would bring in roughly $250 million in new revenues.

But Briant noted that elected officials remain hesitant to accept such a proposal and are uneasy as to whether it would be “politically acceptable.”

Briant said he’s seen polling to show that around 42 percent of the state would support a gas tax increase. He imagines that number could rise to around the 50 percent mark if proponents conveyed their message, but would then most likely drop right back down to around 42 percent following ads from opponents to the measure.

Other options that are potentially more politically palatable exist, Briant said, such as increasing rental car fees and the consolidation of some transit agencies.

Briant said he’s hopeful that Gov. Chris Christie will look to right the ship before the end of his term. He added that he would like to see a plan orchestrated in several phases.

“We have confidence that the governor will address this,” Briant said.

The conference also saw discussion on a number of other development-related issues, such as new incentives legislation and affordable housing guidelines.

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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