DEP Says ‘No Way’ to Rejoining RGGI; Dispute May Head to Court – Again

NJspotlight.com 02/03/2016

The Christie administration is standing by its decision to pull out of a regional multi-state initiative to curb greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global warming. In a partisan vote, the Legislature earlier this year approved a resolution aimed at bringing New Jersey back into the program, which environmentalists argue can reduce power plant pollution while funding a variety of clean-energy programs. But the state Department of Environmental Protection yesterday said it has no intention of rejoining the program, dubbed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from the nine-state program early in his first term, saying it was ineffective and merely a tax on utility customers.

The dispute, already litigated in the courts, appears headed that way again. In passing the resolution, lawmakers exercised a rare legislative tool that could force the agency to rescind regulations that violate the intent of previously adopted laws. The vote marked the first time the Legislature use its oversight authority to challenge what some view as a concerted effort by the administration to roll back environmental laws. The next step in the standoff is likely to be the Legislature once again passing a similar resolution. At that point, clean-energy advocates will probably go to court to force the department to rejoin the RGGI program, which requires power companies to pay for carbon pollution and then pass on the costs to ratepayers.

Bob Considine, DEP’s press director, said the state legally withdrew from the program over four years ago. “New Jersey, thanks to policy decisions, has lower carbon emissions than most of the states that are in the coalition,’’ he said. “The carbon-trading rules were also officially repealed. So we do not intend to respond.’’ That inaction disappointed Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), who sponsored the resolution. “I’m saddened to see Gov. Christie once again allow New Jersey to fall from a leader in responding to climate change to, at best, playing catch up and, at worst, purposefully allowing us to fall behind the curve,’’ he said. “Instead of responding to the Legislature as required by law, the governor has allowed his DEP to block any attempt to return New Jersey to RGGI.’’

In the long run, clean-energy advocates say it is almost inevitable New Jersey will eventually rejoin the program, which has been cited by the Obama administration as a model for helping states reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Clean Power Plan adopted by the Obama administration requires states to dramatically reduce pollution contributing to global warming from power plants. To date, New Jersey has been effective in curbing such emissions, but environmentalists say it is because of the state’s reliance on nuclear power for much of its electricity.

Voters to Decide About Gas Tax Allocation

Njtvonline.org 02/03/2016

Lawmakers seemed to be making headway on the transportation crisis when a constitutional amendment dedicating gas tax revenues unanimously passed both houses last month. Problem is, when you talk to residents, most have never heard of it. The resolution will ask voters if all gas tax money should be reserved for the Transportation Trust Fund. Right now all but about $40 million gets dedicated. The latest Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll found the issue isn’t much more than a blip on New Jersey residents’ radar. “Forty-six percent say they’ve heard absolutely nothing about this and that’s surprising because it has been a topic of debate in New Jersey for the last couple of years,” said Dan Cassino, political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

New Jerseyans largely oppose raising the gas tax, and the constitutional amendment is said to be the framework for increasing it. That said, Professor Cassino says those polled would support the amendment, despite never having heard of it. “A plurality of people, 49 percent, say they’d support the amendment. However, that number is really fluid because most people don’t know anything about this yet,” Cassino said. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto sponsored the bill and told NJTV News today, “I’m not worried about polling from January. This is a conversation that has just begun. It’s safe to say that as November nears, there will be lots of activity from myself and advocates highlighting the need to approve this referendum.”

According to the Federal Highway Administration, New Jersey has just over 2,300 structurally deficient or obsolete bridges in the state. And they’re getting worse faster than they’re being fixed. “People really want to make sure the money they put into the roads gets into the roads. People see how bad they are,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs for AAA Northeast. “If we fully dedicate the gas tax tomorrow to the TTF it’s not going to give us really any more money than we’re getting today because that money is mostly getting into the TTF,” Lewis said. And with gas prices at record lows, advocates see now as the best time to move. “Well look that doesn’t mean gas isn’t going to be affordable. I think one of the things we need to look at is making an increase to the gas tax that is going to be reasonable that people are going to be able to afford,” said Lewis. So lawmakers will have the daunting task of making a tax sound appealing to residents.

New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund Crisis in 5 Charts

Elec825.org 02/03/2016

The Transportation Trust Fund was established in 1984 to provide a stable source of funding for New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure. It worked as designed for years, but it is now running on fumes and will be bankrupt July 1. If that happens, construction projects around the state will grind to a halt, including state, county, and municipal projects that depend upon the Transportation Trust Fund for hundreds of millions of dollars of mission critical capital.

TTF Picture 1Pay as You Go financing is like paying with cash; there’s no interest to be paid and it’s fiscally responsible. But it’s not always feasible with large infrastructure projects, much like most people don’t cash for their homes. The goal is to find the right balance between Pay as You Go and bonds (debt)

TTF Picture 2We are relying too much on bond debt to maintain our roads. Bond debt is like a mortgage or a credit card, useful if used responsibly, but fiscally irresponsible if not

TTF Picture 3At this point, our bond debt is spiraling out of control. Nearly every dollar of revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund is used to pay bond debt accrued from prior years, so we’ve gotten into the bad but necessary* habit of taking on more bonds to maintain the roads. It’s like maxing out a credit card, and then getting another one to pay for groceries.

TTF Picture 4Our children and grandchildren will be paying for our over reliance on bond debt. Even if we started paying for our roads with cash (Pay as You Go) today, we’ve got over $1,000,000,000 of annual bond payments from now well into the next decade.

TTF Picture 5We’re paying for our infrastructure with 1989 dollars. The current condition of NJ’s roads is a direct consequence of these debt-heavy policies. Simply put, we have not invested in infrastructure, instead choosing to take on debt. So while the Consumer Price Index has risen nearly 300% since 1980, the gas tax has not been increased since 1989.

Part of the problem is that whenever the gas tax is mentioned, many react with, “but my property taxes are high enough as it is!” While we understand the anger over high property taxes (we live in NJ too), we need to understand the bulk of property taxes goes to pay for our schools, police, and other services, not transportation infrastructure. We believe that this anger over property taxes has made it harder to make smart decisions about our roads, bridges, tunnels, and quality of life. We pay for it every time we hit a pothole, get stuck in traffic, or cross a bridge that should have been replaced decades ago. The Transportation Trust Fund goes bankrupt July 1. We need a bi-partisan solution to the Transportation Trust Fund that is dedicated to infrastructure. Now. We invite NJ’s legislators, media, and citizens to engage in a fact-based, substantive discussion about the state of our state’s roads, bridges, and tunnels.

 

 

Lawmakers, Christie administration point fingers as TTF deadline nears

2/4/2016

Legislative leaders and the Christie administration seemed no closer Wednesday to finding a funding solution for the Transportation Trust Fund, with Democrats refusing to post any legislation until the governor returns to New Jersey to hammer out a deal and the state transportation commissioner saying lawmakers need to act first. Senate President Stephen Sweeny and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said they were o Prieto is pushing for a larger immediate cash infusion for the fund than Sweeney, whose plan would depend more on borrowing. the same page along with 150 mayors regarding the fund. But even if they reach an agreement of their own, the two Democrats said, there is no sense in trying to push the proposal through the Legislature until they know Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, will not veto the bill. The trust fund, which spends about $3 billion a year in state and federal funds on road, rail and bridge infrastructure projects and repairs, is set to go broke July 1. Legislative leaders believe it is time to take an increase on the state’s 14.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax- the second lowest in the nation- to keep the fund afloat. However, polls show a majority of voters oppose a gas tax increase. Gov. Christie has been spending most of his time speech campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa, so, Gov. Christie has put his confidence in the administration and the legislature to agree on funding a solution that “allows our capital program to grow.” Republican Assembly members and Senators are urging the Democrats to go forward with the bill, however, Democrats are apprehensive with the Governor absent.  However, Prieto said that was a lot easier said than done. It would basically force Democrats to vote for a gas tax increase as many Republicans vote no or sit on their hands.

Transportation Trust Funding Dominates Statehouse Meeting

Wbgo.com 2/3/2016

The lack of an agreement to replenish New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund was a major topic of discussion at the League Of Municipalities annual meeting of mayors and legislative leaders at the Statehouse. Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough says towns have 60 percent of the roads in the state and depend on money from the Trust Fund to maintain them. Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick says Democrats should pass a plan providing revenue for the fund, and then let Governor Christie veto whatever he doesn’t like. Senate President Steve Sweeney knows many residents don’t want the gas tax to be increased and says Christie needs to meet with legislative leaders to formulate a plan. Richard Hammer is the acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Transportation. He’s expecting a plan to be in place before the fund runs out of money at the end of June.