Veto Threat Stops New Jersey Democrats from Pursuing Gas Tax Increase, but Not Other Tax Increases

Governor Christie has promised to veto any tax increase, which has evidently been enough to prevent Democrats from even trying to raise the gas tax.

New Jersey Democrats tried and failed to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Governor Chris Christie’s promise to veto any tax increases. So why hasn’t there been a serious attempt to raise the gas tax?

New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski, a proponent of raising the state’s gas tax, stated earlier this year that “until the governor shows a willingness to tackle the [transportation funding] problem it would be quixotic for Democrats to propose a tax that would face not only the governor’s veto, but his wrath as well.”

It’s a rational argument — why try when failure is certain? But the threat of the governor’s veto hasn’t stopped New Jersey Democrats from trying to advance other tax increases.

Governor Chris Christie has been very vocal about his determination to veto any tax increase that is sent to him, so it came as no surprise when he vetoed a tax increase on millionaires before signing the $32.5 billion state budget this week. What’s surprising is that legislators sent them to the governor anyway. In fact, Democrats in the legislature have tried on several occasions to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Christie’s inevitable veto.

So why have legislators stayed away from seeking a much-needed gas tax increase? It’s not as if legislators don’t realize the state has a transportation funding crisis.

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Putting the “Fund” in the Highway Trust Fund

In March, MTR reported that the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is supported by the federal gas tax and which pays for almost all transportation projects across the U.S., is anticipated to run dry by the end of the month.

Unfortunately, with less than a month to go, the situation has changed little since March. In a recent letter to heads of state DOTs, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx termed it “dire”, and many local electeds would agree that that is the case.

Though an agreement has not been reached on how to fund the HTF, it is not for lack of proposals from our leaders:

Corporate Tax Reform

President Obama’s GROW AMERICA Act– the Administration’s surface transportation reauthorization proposal—calls for “pro-growth business tax reform” to fund transportation infrastructure. According to the Administration, this will generate $150 billion. Streetsblog has called thisa “progressive and thoughtful” proposal “dead on arrival, even though it had support from the Republican chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp.”

Corporate Tax Holiday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed a corporate tax holiday to fund the HTF. As The New York Times describes the plan, “American multinationals would escape taxes on 85 percent of their profits currently held in tax-deferred foreign accounts, provided they bring the money to the United States in the next year.”

The Times notes that after creating $20-$30 billion in two years, a corporate tax holiday would “lose money — by one government estimate, a simple tax holiday would lose $96 billion over 10 years — because the low tax rate would be applied to profits that would have been brought home over time anyway.” Senator Reid’s proposal is a bit more complicated than “a simple corporate tax holiday” – his office claims that the proposal is structured to earn $3 billion over 10 years. However, as The Times points out, these kinds of policies encourage “the hoarding of profits in tax-deferred foreign accounts in anticipation of future tax holidays.” The Obama administration has made it clear that it does not support Senator Reid’s plan.
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New York EFC Charges Ahead with Unprecedented, Unconventional Loan for Tappan Zee Project

The New York Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) board voted 5-0 on Thursday to provide the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) with $511.45 million in low- and no-interest loans  from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) — a fund traditionally used to upgrade sewers across the state.

The vote was fast-tracked and fraught with controversy, as advocacy groups scrambled to get more information on a slew of unanswered questions, and the public was completely shut out of the process. Although EFC general counsel Jim Levine stated at the meeting that there has been a tremendous amount of work and due diligence done on this loan proposal, the public was only notified less than two weeks earlier, on June 11. The statutory requirement for public comment was completely avoided by labeling these loans “a minor modification” to the CWSRF’s Intended Use Plan.

Yesterday’s action, coupled with a still unreleased financial plan for the new Tappan Zee Bridge and continued refusal to provide documents under FOIL and FOIA, is another example of the lack of transparency surrounding the New NY Bridge funding process, most prominently highlighted by the unwillingness of Governor Andrew Cuomo to form the toll and financial panel charged with identifying funding mechanisms to pay for the bridge.

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Lack of Additional Funding from Suffolk State Legislators Leaves County Transit Riders Out to Dry

Suffolk County Transit riders were left in a lurch after New York State’s legislative session ended without securing funding for expanded bus service last week.

Suffolk County State Senators and Assembly members failed to deliver for bus riders, despite a letter from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature, calls from advocates [...]

Connecticut Seeks Bids for I-84 Widening as Number of Structurally Deficient Bridges Continues to Rise

The percent of structurally-deficient bridges in Connecticut has been steadily increasing over the last several years. | FHWA via CTMirror.

Source: Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory (via CTMirror)

The Connecticut Department of Transportation announced yesterday that it is seeking bids for the Interstate 84 widening project in Waterbury. The project, which is based on a 16-year-old environmental assessment, is expected to take five years and cost $400 million, “although the final amount will be determined by the bids received,” according to ConnDOT. 

This announcement couldn’t have been timed more poorly. On Tuesday, the CT Mirror reported that 413 of the state’s 4,218 bridges were structurally deficient as of December 2013, up from 406 in 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In fact, the number of structurally deficient bridges has been on the rise for years.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

WINNERS

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo – This morning Governor Cuomo signed into law a piece of legislation that authorizes the expansion of speed camera use on Long Island, saying that “By empowering Nassau and Suffolk Counties to install dozens of speed cameras in school zones, we are helping to protect our students and ultimately save lives. This should send a message to all drivers – slow down and obey the speed limit, especially when passing by a school.”

Hopewell Township, NJ – The township became the 100th municipality in the Garden State to embrace Complete Streets and the first municipality to do so by way of a Complete Streets ordinance. According to the Township Administrator/Engineer Paul Pogorzelski, “we decided that this policy should be in the form of an ordinance and have the weight of law rather than simply be part of a resolution which does not transcend governing body changes. “

Amtrak - Amtrak announced that they have begun testing new bike-friendly baggage cars to alleviate passengers of the hassle of boxing and checking their bikes as luggage. These baggage cars, which are manufactured in New York state, are expected to be put into service on all 15 long-distance routes by the end of this year.

New Jersey Transit – The agency has unofficially launched its first-ever one seat ride summer shore rail service from Penn Station to Bay Head using new energy-efficient dual-powered locomotives. Riders will save 25 minutes by not having to change trains at Long Branch, which will likely boost ridership to the shore and alleviate summer parking in shore towns. » Continue reading…

Groups Call on New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation to Reconsider Tappan Zee Bridge Loan

UPDATE: EFC Board of Directors approves loan with 5-0 vote. Yesterday, Tri-State and eight other environmental and good government groups sent a letter to New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation Board of Directors calling upon them to reject, or at least postpone a vote on, a $511 million no-interest and low-interest loan for the New NY Bridge construction project. The [...]

Connecticut’s $400 Million Question: Replace Norwalk River Rail Bridge or Widen 2.7 Miles of Interstate 84?

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state's capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state’s capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

The State of Connecticut is demanding federal funding to replace the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge, a Victorian-era swing bridge that has received a great deal of attention after failing to close twice in the last few weeks. When the Walk Bridge, as it’s known in the industry, gets stuck in the open position, rail service shuts down not only on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but also on the Metro-North New Haven Line. But federal dollars are going to be hard to come by. According to the Connecticut Mirror:

Connecticut is now competing with a dozen states and even Metro-North’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for a share of a $3 billion Federal Transit Administration fund created by Congress in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief bill. To replace the bridge, the state is seeking $349 million, more than 10 percent of the entire fund.

If the application fails, there is no other ready funding source for a project estimated to cost $465 million in state and federal funding.

While we don’t dispute that federal transit dollars are few and far between, there is one source of funding that exists within Connecticut. It’s just a question of priorities.

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NJ Transit Chief: “No Service Cuts Or Fare Increases”

NJ Transit’s new Executive Director Ronnie Hakim has gotten off on the right foot by protecting bus and train riders from service cuts and fare hikes. In response to a Tri-State inquiry concerning the proposed $15 million cut to NJ Transit’s operating budget included in Governor Christie’s budget, Executive Director Hakim assured advocates that there [...]

Federal Safety Dollars Flowing to Pedestrian, Bicyclist Safety in New York State

A 10-month-old was killed at this location when she and her pregnant mother, who was pushing her stroller, were struck by a vehicle while crossing Route 110. | Photo: Steve Pfost/Newsday

A 10-month-old was killed at this location when she and her pregnant mother, who was pushing her stroller, were struck by a vehicle while crossing Route 110. | Photo: Steve Pfost/Newsday

Governor Cuomo announced $75.6 million for 33 transportation projects across the state this week. The funding comes from the federal Highways Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), and projects were selected on a competitive basis. Over 60 percent of the projects announced will include some bicycle and pedestrian safety components, and all 13 projects selected in Long Island and New York City are focused on pedestrian and bicycling safety. Some projects that stand out:

  • $2 million to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along 4.3 miles of Ocean Parkway, one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous roads, by installing new traffic signals and pedestrian countdown signals, installing pedestrian refuge islands, prohibiting left turns at some intersections, upgrading curb ramps, signage and pavement markings.
  • $3.2 million to make operational and pedestrian safety improvements on one of the region’s most dangerous roads, Route 110 in the Village of Amityville and the towns of Babylon and Huntington in Suffolk County. It includes widening existing crosswalks and adding 25 ADA-compliant new crosswalks, along with pedestrian countdown timers, new traffic signals and pedestrian refuges.
  • $2 million to improve pedestrian crossings at 235 locations in the Hudson Valley, installing pedestrian countdown timers at traffic signals that have crosswalks and/or pedestrian crossing phases.

This announcement represents a big win for New Yorkers for Active Transportation, a statewide coalition that has advocated for a “fair share for safety” over the last couple of years. While the Federal Transportation Law, MAP-21, slashed dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects by 30 percent (a $12 million reduction for New York), it did almost double the apportionment of HSIP funding—a potentially key source of funding for pedestrian and cycling safety infrastructure.

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