On Friday October 14 the Governor signed PL 2016, c. 56 and PL 2016, c. 57, bills which reauthorized the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). The League long sought the reauthorization of the TTF as well as the doubling of the portion of the TTF that goes to counties and municipalities, which is part of the new law. Now with that funding in place, New Jersey voters will cast their ballots on Public Question 2, the “New Jersey Dedication of All Gas Tax Revenues to Transportation Amendment,” regarding the funding of transportation projects.
Passage of the question would amend Article VIII, Section 11 of the New Jersey State Constitution to dedicate all revenues generated by the gas tax for transportation projects. Essentially, the proposed constitutional amendments would lockbox gas tax revenues for transportation projects and not subject them to the annual appropriation process.
Passage of Public Question 2 would secure all gas tax revenues for the TTF.
While the State Constitution, currently, dedicates most of the revenues derived from taxes on motor fuels and petroleum products to the TTF, it leaves some in the uncertain hands of future State officials. That means that some of these dollars could be diverted away from State – and local – transportation projects and spent elsewhere. Thus, the purpose of the proposed amendment is to assure additional funding to the State’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and to assure the public that all such revenues will be constitutionally dedicated for transportation purposes.
The interpretative statement reads,
This amendment would dedicate all of the revenue from the State tax on motor fuels to the Transportation Trust Fund. The current dedication is 10.5 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel fuel. The amendment would include an additional three cents of the tax on diesel fuel that is not currently dedicated. The total revenue from the tax on motor fuels this fiscal year is estimated to be $541 million. The amendment also dedicates all of the revenue from the tax on gross receipts of the sale of petroleum products to the Transportation Trust Fund. The current minimum dedication is $200 million per year. This fiscal year, the revenue from the tax on gross receipts of the sale of petroleum products is estimated to be $215 million. The amendment does not change the current tax on motor fuels or petroleum products gross receipts. The dedication to the Transportation Trust Fund ensures that the revenue is only used for transportation purposes.
Here’s why we think a yes vote is critical. New Jersey’s infrastructure has long been falling apart. The American Society of Civil Engineers released an Infrastructure Report Card this summer giving our roads and bridges a D+ grade, and years of borrowing left the fund bankrupt. Without a long-term solution, local property taxpayers were going to be on the hook for millions in much-needed improvements to local roads and bridges. Recently, the Governor and the Legislature came up with a plan that not only provides billions to fix our infrastructure, but also doubles the amount of local aid towns and counties will receive to fix their infrastructure. Infrastructure upkeep is a vital public safety function that must be sustained and the doubling of the funding to local governments also means that funding does not need to rely on property taxes.
Thus, this is property tax relief and if State funding for transportation is not constitutionally dedicated, it may be reduced down the road, with the result of costs falling on property taxpayers.
In 2014, we surveyed League members to get their thoughts on a number of Transportation Trust Fund renewal options. One of our questions asked if they would support an amendment to the State Constitution to prevent, as much as possible, future Legislatures and Administrations from using Transportation Trust Fund revenues for anything other than transportation capital projects. Overwhelmingly, they supported the option to constitutionally dedicate TTF revenues for such work. Over 80% of the League members who responded registered “Strong” support and another 11% were “Somewhat” supportive.
One question and concern the League has been asked regards increases or decreases in the gas tax that could result from the ballot question. To clarify, the question will not raise (or lower) the gas tax, regardless of the outcome. As noted, the new law increased the gas tax by $0.23, from the current $0.14, effective November 1, $0.37. The actual amount of the gas tax would continue to be determined by statute. Public Question 2 instead intends to assure that all gas tax revenues are used for transportation purposes.
So while the TTF reauthorization is now law, it is not the end of the road. Voters still must take the final step in ensuring that all of these dollars actually go towards fixing our roads, bridges, and railways.
No one wants to pay more at the pump. But there should be consensus that all revenues from the gas tax, whatever that tax may be, should go for transportation purposes. Voting yes on Question #2 will guarantee that.
Michael F. Cerra, Assistant Executive Director, 609-695-3481 x120, firstname.lastname@example.org