Christie talks possible gas tax deal with legislative leaders, but no progress
Top New Jersey officials struck decidedly different tones Tuesday when assessing the prospects for resolving a transportation funding impasse now into its second month.
Gov. Chris Christie, whose preference for a sales-tax cut that would more than offset the 23-cent per gallon hike in the gas tax he’s willing to sign has hit a wall in the Senate, says he is confident a solution will be found.
“I’m not sitting here particularly worried that we won’t be able to come to a resolution,” Christie said at an unrelated Statehouse news conference. "I spoke with the Senate president yesterday. I spoke with the Senate president again today. I spoke with the speaker today. We'll get there.”
“I want to get this done,” Christie said. “I’m the first governor in 27 years who has said they’re willing to entertain a gas-tax increase. That’s not nothing.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney is more downcast. He hoped to be able to schedule a Thursday voting session but couldn’t get the votes lined up Tuesday. He said a Friday voting session is possible.
“I was on the phone with senators today. We’re continuing to try. We have a few more days this week, and we’re working to try to get it done,” Sweeney said. “It’s important to get it done. I’m not hopeful. I spoke to the governor yesterday about it. I just don’t see a pathway at this point.”
Sweeney reiterated a timeline he laid out a day earlier, that a solution may be delayed until November.
“I’m not confident that we’re going to get something done before the presidential election. I hope I’m wrong. That’s all I can tell you is I hope I’m really wrong,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney suggested to reporters Monday evening that Christie may be dragging his feet in hopes of landing a job in the White House or the Cabinet if Donald Trump wins the presidential election. He said Christie wouldn’t want to sign or allow a tax increase that would be unpopular in his party.
Christie said that doesn’t make sense given that he already agreed to “a substantial gas-tax increase” – albeit, only when paired with tax cuts larger than the $1.2 billion bite from hiking the price at the pump.
“And if the senator would have passed it in his chamber, I would have signed it. And that’s when I was supposedly auditioning for vice president. So it’s just not a factual comment,” Christie said.
“This has nothing to do with national politics because if it did, I wouldn’t have said I was for that one,” Christie said.
The two sides are in agreement on the gas tax hike. They differ on the tax cuts they’d pass in order to attract support for funding transportation. Christie backs cuts in sales taxes and retirement income. Democrats prefer a more targeted package headlined by estate tax and retirement income cuts.
“There’s a limit to the tax cuts that we can provide. There really is. There’s a level that beyond it, you can’t fund things,” Sweeney said.
Christie suggested that if you consider the economic benefits that would result from reducing the sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent and exempting more retirement income from taxes, the impact on the budget would be about half the $1.8 billion to $2 billion that legislative budget analysts project.
“When you put more money into working people’s pockets, they generally spend it. Now, they’ll save some of it. But working people will generally spend more money that you put into their pockets. That helps to create even more economic activity,” Christie said.
“I’m not saying the economic activity will make up for whatever cut in revenue — no, it’s not going to be even. But it will not be nearly as much of a loss in revenue as they contend that it will be,” he said.
“Listen, you’re talking about a loss of revenue of somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 million to a billion dollars,” Christie said.
The use of ‘dynamic scoring,’ as Christie suggests, wasn’t done by the Legislature to assess its tax proposal or Christie’s, though lawmakers who back their version have said there would also be an economic benefit from cutting estate and retirement-income taxes.