On the Road Again-But to Where? Transportation Proposals Only Delay Day of Reckoning

By Martin E. Robins

Introduction

A well-rounded transportation program involves building bridges. And a bridge is the centerpiece of current debate over transportation funding in New Jersey-not a real bridge, but a bridge over time. The people we elect to make prudent decisions are trying to build a bridge across the divide of the 2001 gubernatorial election. Only after crossing that bridge, the reasoning seems to go, can there be a serious discussion of, and honest solution to, our transportation funding problems.

So for now, both the Senate and Assembly have devised proposals that would allow the flow of dollars for important transportation projects to continue into the term of the next Governor. As this is written, they appear to have put together a compromise that would put into law some provisions from each house’s version. But, as Martin E. Robins explains in the pages that follow, the legislative proposals, including the compromise bill, don’t only put off the day of reckoning when New Jersey must address what has been allowed to happen to the Transportation Trust Fund in recent years. They also make that day increasingly difficult to deal with by the overuse of borrowing that will divert dollars away from future improvements of the transportation system and into paying off new debt.

A state whose economic well being and quality of life depend so heavily on transportation is being told to take a lot on faith. Will the budget be as healthy as it is now, or will a downturn mean revenues aren’t available for a long-term transportation funding solution? Will voters, if they approve a proposed referendum this fall to siphon money away from other needs and into transportation, be misled into thinking nothing else is needed? And if so, where will the next Governor summon the will-or legislative support-to do what needs to be done? No matter what happens, is there reason to believe anyone elected to office won’t succumb to the temptation of more quick political fixes? There is always another election to worry about.

New Jersey needs a stable, reliable source of transportation funding. New Jersey’s gasoline taxes are lower than those in 46 other states. It isn’t as though people in power don’t know where the road should lead. The search seems to be for just the right moment, and that moment is three to four years away under the present legislative calculation.

In the meantime, New Jersey Policy Perspective is grateful to Martin Robins for digging into the current proposals so their provisions, and their context, can be fully understood. It is our mission to help broaden debate in New Jersey on important issues, and we cannot help but believe that more information in the hands of more people is essential to the process of injecting more courage into the policymaking process.

Jon Shure
President, NJPP

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