LAFAYETTE, NJ – While protestors rallied outside of the Lafayette House in the soaring heat on Wed, Jul. 27, Senator Steve Oroho’s (R-24) meeting inside between municipal officials, state representatives and transportation and engineering experts mainly remained calm and cool-headed.
Oroho’s representatives organized the invitation-only event to discuss the proposed revisions to the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) Authority Act (S2412) and companion Assembly bill A10. Participants included invited municipal officials and others from Sussex and Warren Counties, as well as Mount Olive Township.
Click here for the Senate bill.
Click here for the Assembly bill.
Oroho has come under fire for his support of the initiative to raise the gas tax by 23 cents per gallon to help fund the bankrupt TTF. Along with Senator Paul A. Sarlo (D-36) he is a senate bill co-sponsor.
Governor Chris Christie has previously rejected the initiative, because he would like to see more tax cuts, including a reduction in the sales tax from 7 to 6 percent to accompany it. In the meantime, public construction has been frozen until the issue of TTF funding is resolved.
Oroho, who works professionally as a financial planner in addition to his work as legislator, and is involved with the Budget and Appropriations, Economic Growth and State Government, and Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committees. While Oroho’s new detractors have recently attacked him online because of his involvement with this act’s revision, Oroho has been revered over the years on both sides of the aisle, according to one of the experts called in during the work session at the Lafayette House, Anthony Attanasio.
Attanasio is currently the Executive Director with the Utility & Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey. Previously, he worked with NJ Transit as its Deputy Chief of Staff and with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) as the Assistant Commissioner of Government & Community Relations.
“Everyone should be grateful they have Steve,” Attanasio said of Oroho. “He’s respected on both sides of the aisle. He is the best advocate in the state,” Attanasio also noted, after having worked closely with Oroho while with the DOT during the project in Byram for Route 206.
The protestors who were outside of the establishment until the State Police broke up their activity, represented both sides of the issue, some protesting against the tax while others promoted it to fix the roads, to lower other taxes and also for job creation.
“I don’t like taxes any more than anyone else,” Attansio explained early in the meeting, clarifying that, “This is a time where proper investing makes sense.”
Attansio said that past administrations funded infrastructure projects poorly, borrowing 30 year notes for assets, including roadways that would not last more than 10 years. Attansio told municipal officials that in the process, the TTF accrued a $1.4 billion previous debt service. Plus, in previous administrations before Christie took office, monies intended for transportation were placed in the general fund and raided.
The revised bill will include exclusive funding for transportation projects known as the “State Transportation Infrastructure Bank” that will be part of the NJ Environmental Infrastructure Trust. This will permit costs to be directly funded to help ensure necessary repairs of public roadways, bridges, underpasses and rail stations among projects. In the end, Attansio said that the taxpayers win with the new plan with the infrastructure bank.
Sam Donelson, Vice President of AECOM, who previously was the Director of Engineering and Operations/Chief Engineer and later the Acting Executive Director of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, said that reparations are dire on New Jersey infrastructure, and suspension of repairs is hampering safety as well as employment.
“We are beyond crisis,” Donelson said. “This is a life and safety issue.”
Donelson said that 67 percent of the roadways are in “poor” to “mediocre” condition and additionally are costing New Jerseyans already an average of about $600 annually in vehicle repairs.
Bridges in the state, Donelson added, have 10 percent of them or 651 bridges classified as “structurally deficient,” with 25 percent considered “functionally obsolete.” Those coined “functionally obsolete” number about 1,700.
With the halt in projects, Donelson said, people employed in the construction management industry are experiencing job losses. In his own company, employees were asked to use vacation time, and the company has had to explore layoffs. Donelson said those being laid off are construction managers currently earning about $16 to $18 per hour in wages, which is directly impacting hardworking New Jerseyans with families.
Oroho said in reviewing the TTF issues and performing a financial analysis, the current debt service would not be paid off until 2042.
The realization, Oroho told the audience “made me sick.”
Oroho said in comparison to other states, including Pennsylvania and New York, of which citizens of these states are consistently using New Jersey infrastructure too, New Jersey’s gas tax now is 14.5 cent per gallon, New York’s is 42 cents, and Pennsylvania’s 50 cents per gallon. In New Jersey, the tax including the 23-cent hike would still come in less than the other two states at 37.5 cents per gallon.
About 8 to 9 cents per gallon collected in gas taxes are taken from the top to go to the federal level.
Among the measures to help offset the gas tax proposed includes having those out of state New Jerseyans chip in to help with roadway costs. Another is phase out the state’s estate tax by 2020, releasing retirees from payment of taxes on their retirement income (capped at $75,000 for single persons and $100,000 for those who are married – singles are now being taxed beginning at $15,000 and those who are married at $20,000), increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit that the working class is eligible for to 40 percent (the federal level is now 30 percent), and permitting tax writeoffs on state taxes for contributions earmarked for charities within New Jersey.
The discussion with the municipalities was proactive, with active dialogue about lowering costs on infrastructure projects. Some felt that some facets they have seen on projects, such as wheelchair entrances on busy roadways where there are no sidewalks, with Route 23 one example, reflected “gross mismanagement” of funds. The panel experts explained that including features like that was part of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and are part of federal mandates. If the state does not comply in installing these features, federal monies for projects could be pulled. Municipal officials were directed to speak to their Senators including Cory Booker (D-NJ) with concerns about these mandates.
One mayor proposed the possibility of municipalities not accepting funding for road repairs if repairs were not necessary. Oroho said he was taking notes of all of the suggestions and would inquire further if that was a statutory question, and if the municipality would then absorb risk for not accepting the funds.
Another suggestion came from a township administrator, who said that township residents established their own dedicated trust fund, with increased taxes per home $200 more annually for the township’s trust fund, and have participated in the initiative willingly.
Click here for InsideScene.com’s previous stories on this topic, including how consumers can find creative ways to save at the pump.
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