Bill Will Also Ensure Continuation of Vital Projects & Shield Property Taxpayers from Shouldering Costs for Governor’s Shutdown
By a vote of 52-13-8 the full Assembly on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Gary Schaer, Craig Coughlin, Daniel Benson, Jamel Holley, John Wisniewski and Reed Gusciora to ensure the continuation of vital transportation projects and protect local governments from costs incurred by delays as a result of Gov. Christie’s initial executive order (210) issued in June shutting down transportation projects until the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) crisis is resolved.
“Local governments are not to blame for the lack of a TTF plan, yet they could ultimately be on the hook for the potential cost overruns resulting from the Governor’s executive order. That means local property taxpayers, who fund the bulk of local government spending, will have to bear these costs,” stated Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “To add insult to injury, local governments willing to front the costs to ensure these projects get finished in a timely manner are being told they may not be reimbursed with the TTF funds promised to them. This is not fair, and it is not in the best interest of our state.”
The bill (A-4114) would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to compensate municipalities, counties, or other local government entities for delay damages on transportation projects supported through the local aid program, if those delay damages resulted from the shutdown of TTF projects pursuant to Executive Order No. 210.
“This unfortunate stalemate has forced many vital projects to grind to a halt, senselessly punishing residents, inconveniencing motorists and endangering public safety. This legislation will rectify the matter,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic).
“Now is prime construction season when the weather is great. If towns want to wisely take advantage of this window to make sure their projects get finished before winter, they should have the prerogative to do so,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex).
“Local governments, and more importantly residents, should not be penalized for something outside their control,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This will ensure projects get completed in a timely manner without further burdening taxpayers.”
“Our aim is to protect taxpayers financially and, more importantly, protect them from the hazards of navigating deteriorating roads and bridges, as well as idle construction projects,” said Holley (D-Union).
“The Governor’s decision to halt transportation projects is effectively punishing local governments and residents for his own inability to find a solution to our funding crisis. This bill will insulate taxpayers from this misguided decision,” said Wisniewski, Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee (D-Middlesex).
“It’s not fair to foist the financial responsibility for this self-created ’emergency’ on the backs of our local governments and property taxpayers. The Governor and the state must take responsibility for these costs and the commitments made to our local governments,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).
The bill also permits a local government entity to use its own funds to continue or complete a transportation project that was halted as a result of the executive order. The bill prohibits DOT or any other executive branch agency from withholding, revoking, or otherwise canceling certain local aid due to the local government entity’s decision to use its funds to continue or complete the transportation project.
The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.