- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Christie ordered Thursday that projects paid for by the state’s transportation trust fund will be shut down by midnight Saturday, casting the blame for the lapsed funding at the Democrat-led Senate.

Christie’s executive order was announced shortly before the 11:59 p.m. deadline Thursday for the five-year, $1.6 billion fund to be renewed and after the Senate scrapped any vote on a funding plan.

Christie lashed out at Democrats who run the Senate and blamed them for not backing his plan, which passed the Assembly on Tuesday.

“Senate Democrats are clearly conflicted over how to appease their public and private-sector union masters,” Christie said.

It’s unclear how many jobs the order will affect or how many workers could be affected. Christie’s order says that work paid for with federal funds may continue and that any jobs deemed “absolutely essential” can continue.

Christie’s last-minute decision came after Senate President Steve Sweeney declined to vote on Christie’s plan to hike the gas tax by 23 cents while cutting the sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent over nearly two years.

Sweeney said there just isn’t enough support among senators for a deal backed by Christie and passed Tuesday in the Democrat-led Assembly. That measure would provide for an eight-year plan at $2 billion per year, financed by a 23 cent tax hike on fuel. It would be offset by cutting the sales tax from 7 percent to 6.5 percent in 2017 and to 6 percent in 2018.

“The Senate just doesn’t agree with the Assembly’s bill,” Sweeney said. “The Senate feels it’s too expensive.”

Sweeney and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers had backed a separate deal that included an identical gas tax hike. But, unlike the Assembly plan, that deal would have phased out the estate tax and also established a charitable tax deduction, among other changes.

The Assembly plan could cost the $35 billion state budget nearly $2 billion in lost sales tax revenue, while the Senate plan clocked in at under $1 billion in lost revenue because of the tax cuts.

Christie said the plan meets his tax fairness test, because it cuts about the same as it raises in new taxes. Both plans call for raising the retirement income threshold to help pensioners.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said it’s urgent for Sweeney and Christie to agree soon and that he’s open to meeting with them. But, he said, there are not enough votes to override Christie on the original Senate bill, which the governor said he would not sign.

“I need a bill that the governor will sign,” Prieto said.

The Senate’s stall comes after Sweeney advocated for more than a year for the transportation trust fund to be replenished, only to see his plan put on the back burner and for him to argue that Friday’s deadline isn’t so dire after all.

Constructions projects were not scheduled to stop come Friday and there likely is enough cash to take the current fund through August, Sweeney said. The Christie administration had earlier said the same.

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