Time Is Running Out to Save NJ's Transportation Trust Fund

New Jersey's Transporation Trust Fund will run out of money in just a few weeks if nothing is done to replenish it. Without those funds, the state won't be able to properly maintain its roads, bridges and rail lines. That's why an effort by State Senators Paul Sarlo and Steven Oroho to find a way to keep the fund going deserves support.

Their 10-year, $20 billion plan would work by raising the state's gas tax by 23 cents to 37.5 cents a gallon. Even with the increase, the first in decades, New Jersey's gas tax would still trail those in neighboring New York and Pennsylvania.

New Jersey's transportation infrastructure has been deteriorating for years, as a funding shortfall has forced the state to delay much-needed repairs. The proposed increase is part of a bill that includes more money for repairs to local streets, sidewalks and bicycle and pedestrian projects, funding that has been cut over the past 30 years. Without the increase, municipalities across the state will be forced to use an even greater share of their property tax revenue to maintain their streets and sidewalks. 

The bill also includes a pilot program to study a vehicular mileage tax, which would charge drivers based on miles driven rather than at the pump. With declining gas receipts and more fuel-efficient cars, VMT taxes have potential as a future source of transportation revenue that will more fairly and efficiently charge drivers based on how much they use the road network.

The proposal by Sen. Sarlo, a Democrat, and Sen. Oroho, a Republican, comes with a variety of tax cuts, most notably the elimination of the estate tax, which should be scrutinized by New Jersey residents. Reducing state revenue will increase borrowing in the future, and saddle the next generation with an ever greater debt burden. The implications could be far reaching, and inhibit the state’s ability to fun vital infrastructure, education and other needs in the future. 

The legislature and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have a few more weeks to agree on a plan to keep the fund going. If they don't, the potholes, breakdowns and delays that frustrate commuters and harm the state's reputation will become that much more commonplace.