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Backers of Public Question #2 Say It’s Only Way to Make Sure Gas Tax Goes to TTF

Monday, November 7, 2016   (0 Comments)
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NJ.com 11/07/16

One of two public questions that will appear on Election Day ballots throughout the state next week will ask voters if they want every penny from the newly hiked fuel taxes to be constitutionally dedicated to one purpose — paying for the upkeep and expansion of the state’s roads, bridges, and mass-transit system. Supporters of the constitutional dedication say it’s the only way to make sure the money isn’t diverted away from the state’s more than 30-year-old Transportation Trust Fund since governors from both political parties have a long history of raiding funds that haven’t been earmarked with such an ironclad protection. New information provided to NJ Spotlight from the Department of Treasury suggests the state’s ability to borrow for transportation projects won’t be hindered even if the ballot question doesn’t pass. "Regardless of the outcome of the ballot question, the Legislature could still authorize more than the $12 billion currently being contemplated,” Treasury spokesman Willem Rijksen said.

The way New Jersey assesses fuel taxes right now is rather complicated. There is a 10.5-cent per-gallon tax on the sale of gasoline, and all revenue from that tax is dedicated to funding transportation projects via the TTF, which is a separate spending account walled off from the budget’s general fund. The state also levies a 13.5-cent per-gallon tax on diesel fuel, with 10.5 cents currently dedicated to the TTF. Lastly, the state also charges a tax on the gross receipts of petroleum products at the wholesale level, with at least $200 million required to be set aside for the TTF under a ballot question approved by voters in 2000. Without the constitutional “lock box,” the gas-tax revenue could be diverted into the state budget’s general fund, where it could be used for other purposes or simply to plug budget holes. “We simply can’t risk letting Trenton misuse our hard-earned tax dollars,” said Greg Lalevee, chairman of the Engineers-Labor Cooperative, in a statement calling for passage of Public Question #2.

Under the TTF reauthorization bill, the state would spend $2 billion annually on transportation projects over the next eight years, with about $1.5 billion raised from new borrowing and the remaining $500 million coming from the increased gas tax. The $2 billion represents an annual increase of $400 million over the $1.6 billion that has been spent by the state on transportation each year for the last decade. New Jersey’s transportation spending also draws a roughly equal match from the federal government, stretching the state’s dollars further. “This existing constitutional dedication permits the state Legislature the ability to authorize bonding authority without additional voter approval, provided that the source of repayment of these subject-to-appropriation bonds are constitutionally dedicated revenues,” Rijksen said. But if the ballot question prevails, Rijksen said, the new TTF legislation “places a $12 billion cap on the Legislature's borrowing.”


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