| NEW YORK, Sept 30
NEW YORK, Sept 30 New Jersey lawmakers and
Governor Chris Christie on Friday struck a $16 billion deal to
fund stalled state transportation projects for the next eight
years by hiking the gasoline tax 23 cents a gallon.
The proposal would increase the total state gas tax, which
has not risen since 1988, to 37.5 cents a gallon. In exchange,
lawmakers would reduce sales taxes and eliminate an estate tax
on wealthy residents.
The hard-fought deal comes after months of talks and
previous agreements that ultimately fell flat. The Democrats who
lead the legislature could not agree among themselves and with
Christie about exactly how to replenish the Transportation Trust
Fund (TTF), which pays for road, bridge and transit projects and
as of July 1 only had about enough money for debt service on
In early July, Christie halted all but the most essential
projects paid for with the TTF, including $2.7 billion of NJ
Friday's funding agreement also comes in the wake of a
deadly NJ Transit crash of a commuter train in Hoboken, an
accident that has added scrutiny to the state's transportation
Investigators on Friday examined a black box recorder
recovered from the wreckage in search of clues about the cause
of that crash the day before.
Christie noted during a press conference on Friday that he
had been in discussions with Senate President Stephen Sweeney
and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto earlier in the week.
"This meeting was scheduled and known by many reporters
almost a week before the tragedy," Christie spokesman Brian
Murray told Reuters in an email.
Under the deal, the state sales tax rate will drop in phases
from the current 7 percent to 6.625 percent after January 2018.
Low-income working families, veterans and retirees would also
see tax reductions.
Altogether, the tax cuts will cost the state $164 million in
2017 and an estimated $1.4 billion once fully phased in by 2021,
Christie's office said.
Both houses of the legislature must still approve the
Christie also said he would ask voters in November to
approve a constitutional amendment mandating that gas tax
revenues be dedicated to transportation projects.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Additional reporting by Jarrett
Renshaw; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)