- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Funding for transportation projects has long been simmering as an issue in New Jersey.

Now, it’s coming to a boil.

Last week, a coalition of business, consumer advocate and planning groups called for a new funding structure. Days later, Gov. Chris Christie nominated Democrat Jamie Fox to head the state’s transportation department, and he was confirmed by the state Senate on Monday.

On Wednesday, the state Assembly’s transportation committee is holding a hearing on funding for projects.

Here is a look at issues involved, in question and answer form:

Q: How does New Jersey pay for transportation projects?

A: The state uses money from the gasoline tax (at 14.5 cents per gallon, it’s among the nation’s lowest); a tax on firms that refine or distribute petroleum projects; a portion of the sales tax and a relatively small allocation from toll road authorities. For the current fiscal year, that revenue comes to $1.2 billion. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is paying for an additional $375 million in New Jersey projects.

But the transportation trust fund is troubled.

Policymakers say that the state should pay for road and transit projects as work is done. But New Jersey has instead long been funding most work by borrowing.

This year, it expects to pay $1.2 billion in debt service for previous projects. To help fund that, the state is issuing $1 billion in new bonds.

Q: What’s the shape of New Jersey’s transportation system?

A: There’s broad agreement that a lot of roads and bridges could use upgrades. One report has identified more than 2,000 bridges with structural deficiencies. Advocates say the state needs to make improvements to reduce commuting times, car repair bills and to be more attractive for trucking and warehousing businesses.

Q: What does the state need to do?

A: Forward NJ, a coalition of business groups, transportation advocates and other organizations, is calling for the same thing that Democratic lawmakers want: a permanent source of funding for the projects. It says the state needs to spend $20 billion on projects over the next decade, but the group has not advocated for a particular method of raising that money.

Q: Does there need to be a tax increase to pay for transportation projects?

A: Advocates generally think there does.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, said he is open to ideas about which tax or taxes would need to be raised and by how much. He said possibilities include raising the per-gallon gasoline tax, imposing a sales tax on gas or raising the petroleum tax.

Gov. Christie, a Republican who generally opposes raising taxes, said last week that “all options are on the table,” but he did not speak specifically about what they might be or which he prefers.

Q: What does it mean that Christie named a Democrat to be his next transportation commissioner?

A: Democrats are praising Fox as both a transportation expert and a savvy politician. He has served as a top aide to Gov. Jim McGreevey. He served as state transportation commissioner more than a decade ago and has also been deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The Democrat-controlled state Senate confirmed him on Monday.

“I think it’s a good step in the right direction. I think Jamie is very well respected by everybody,” Prieto said. “He knows the need.”

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Follow Mulvihill at https://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill

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