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Lawmaker: N.J. roads can be fixed without gas tax hike

Friday, May 27, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 05/27/16

State Sen. Jennifer Beck on Thursday announced she is introducing two sweeping bills to free up billions of dollars in the state budget to fund the near-broke Transportation Trust Fund for seven years without raising the gas tax. The two bills, which would overhaul transportation administration in New Jersey and reform public worker health care, are the centerpieces of Beck's plan to bring in money for road, bridge and rail projects. But where Democrats say an increase at the pump is unavoidable, Beck, a Republican, started to put together a plan late last year to prove the trust fund can be replenished without a tax increase.

Beck's seven-year, $11.2 billion funding plan relies on $6.8 billion in cash and $4.4 billion in borrowing. It shifts from mostly borrowing in the first years to mostly cash by 2018. Her plan for $1.6 billion in transportation funding a year assumes tax collections will grow 3.15 percent a year and allows for increases in the state's fixed costs, including debt payments, Medicaid and public pensions. Beck would consolidate the Department of Transportation, Turnpike Authority, NJ Transit, the South Jersey Transportation Authority and the Transportation Trust Fund Authority. It's a "complicated task" that could save the state $50 million or more each year, Beck said.

Much of the funding she needs comes from a proposed overhaul of health care that would scale back benefits for state and school workers. Beck called it an "essential primary benefits plan" that provides basic benefits but will "still encompass all of major benefits that most people expect in their plans, but it will bring it into line with what the federal government is saying should be a standard plan." Those changes would be made legislatively, outside of collective bargaining, Beck said, adding they would save the state $1 billion and school districts and municipalities $2.7 billion. The calculations provided are also based on $230 million a year in new revenue through increased fines for some motor vehicle violations.

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