TRENTON – It’s now been nearly six years since the state last passed a law reauthorizing its Transportation Fund, including a hike in the gas tax – which makes it about two years until that plan expires.

To avoid a fiscal cliff, Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said talks about what comes next should start this summer, after the fiscal 2023 state budget is finalized.

“The gas tax conversation in my mind doesn’t even become percolated until we get through the budget process,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said at an Assembly budget hearing Monday “This is more than enough for everybody to do right now.”

In 2016, the state didn't have a Transportation Trust Fund financing plan approved by the time the prior plan expired, and then-Gov. Chris Christie shut down transportation construction projects for more than three months.

“We do have a couple of years to get there, but as we know time moves very quickly,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.

The TTF provides about $2 billion a year for projects through NJ Transit and the Department of Transportation. The 2016 reauthorization allowed the TTF to take on $12 billion in debt over eight years – though by July, the state expects to have used only $4.8 billion of that.

“I appreciate $12 billion of borrowing capacity, but having over $20 billion of transportation debt is nothing to brag about,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.

New Jersey’s gas tax is 42.4 cents per gallon, up from 14.5 cents before the 2016 increase. It can be adjusted up or down each year to hit a revenue target set by state law – a decision made in August that takes effect in October.

“Any Transportation Trust Fund reauthorization going forward is going to have to include many elements that are new that we never experienced – electric vehicle use,” she said.

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Among the ideas being studied by New Jersey and other Eastern states is a mileage-based user fee, as a gas tax doesn’t generate revenue from people who drive electric cars. It’s in the data-collection phase and such a fee is not currently being proposed.

“It’s just a concept under study,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “We don’t know today if a mileage-based user fee would be a suitable replacement or somehow in addition to what we collect under the gas-tax scenario.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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