- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The scene is set for lawmakers to discuss raising taxes in the next session of the New Jersey Legislature.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Thursday sketched the coming session, which is expected to begin in January, saying the state must address its ailing transportation trust fund, high property taxes and the public pension system.

The statehouse news conferences came days after the Democratic Party picked up at least three new seats in the Assembly. A Democrat is leading in a fourth seat where ballots are being tabulated and a recount may be possible.

But few details were fleshed out Thursday, and Republicans called on Democrats to lead the way since they won the election.

“What’s your plan?” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick asked.

What seems clear is the potential for a confrontation over raising taxes, which Democrats have said may be necessary but that Republicans including Gov. Chris Christie will consider only if net surcharges do not go up.

“We need revenues in the state of New Jersey,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said. “If anybody knows me by now, I’m very straightforward and I’m very blunt in the things that I say. It gets tougher as every year goes by.”

Christie said recently Republicans should not support any tax increases unless other taxes are lowered.

Prieto criticized that approach Thursday.

“You can’t have something that’s revenue neutral,” he said. “How are you going to fix the roads and then take the money from somewhere else? That is a ridiculous statement.”

At issue is the state’s transportation trust fund. A variety of taxes go into the fund, including one on gasoline, but the money goes toward paying down debt from previous projects, and any new projects are financed by additional borrowing. Lawmakers say that come June 30, the fund will no longer be able to borrow for new projects.

Democrats also want the state to pay more into the public pension, but Christie, who is seeking the GOP nomination for president, has said further reforms are needed. He paid $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year despite a statute calling for a nearly $3 billion payment. The dispute is at the heart of an ongoing partisan fight in Trenton.

Bramnick and Republicans say reducing the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes should be a top priority, but Prieto pointed out that cuts could blow other holes in the state’s roughly $38 billion budget.

Thursday also saw legislators re-elect leaders for the new session. Prieto also re-elected speaker, while Bramnick and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. were selected as top Republicans again. Senate President Steve Sweeney was also chosen to lead his chamber again next year.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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