By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
We’ve been told that opinion columnist Paul Mulshine is some species of conservative/libertarian, Save Jerseyans, but he unequivocally endorsed a gas tax hike on Sunday. The proposal championed by McGreevey alumnus Jamie Fox. Hmmm…
Curiously, Mulshine frames the gas tax decision, brought about by the dire condition of New Jersey’s trust fund, as a choice between two negatives: “We either have to borrow even more money, despite the fact that Wall Street has already downgraded our bonds because of past borrowing. Or we need to raise the gas tax.”
Counterpoint: what’s the point of roads that no one can afford to drive? New Jersey’s worst-in-the-nation tax climate is already sooo bad that a new survey from Monmouth University Polling Institute found no less than 50% of New Jerseyans WANT to leave our state and a full 58% believing it’s either very or somewhat likely that they’ll pull of stakes. I’ll concede taxing or borrowing are the likely outcomes given the fact that the Democrat Party has a stranglehold on both chambers of the New Jersey State Legislature. But there are other choices, Paul. Real choices. Ones which won’t further poison our state’s awful tax and business climate.
Let’s take a look at just a few of them:
(1) Make road operation and maintenance cheaper by repealing the prevailing wage.
Most of you are probably familiar with the federal Davis-Bacon Act. New Jersey has its own prevailing wage law dating back to 1913. The prevailing wage mandates a certain hourly wage for the trades throughout a particular geographic region; the end result is less competition and dramatically inflated wages which, obviously, drive the cost of projects through the roof. How high? According to the recently-released 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, New Jersey has the most expensive road system to operate and maintain in the nation at a cost of approximately $2 million per mile! Yes, it’s true as Mulshine says that politicians have raided and failed to adequately fund the TTF. But guess what? Controlling costs with a prevailing wage in place would’ve made that difficult even if our legislators and governors had had the most disciplined approach and best intentions in the world. Eliminate it! And watch our dollars get a lot more mileage.
(2) Put utilities on the hook for construction project relocation costs.
This one should, in a perfect world, be bipartisan no-brainer! New Jersey is one of the only states in America that pays the relocation costs for construction delays engendered by utility companies. Ridiculous, right? This absurd precedence is another major factor driving the cost of road maintenance, operation and construction. Why are taxpayers footing this bill? Regulated utilities spend MILLIONS on lobbying annually, so we’re unlikely to see this change in the short run, but Trenton should make utilities should bear the costs incurred by delays related to electric, gas and water service if they’re serious about fixing our state’s transportation financing mess.
(3) Rein in PLAs!
Our friends from AFP-NJ said it best in a recent Save Jersey guest post:
“Big Labor favoritism in the way of project labor agreements (PLAs) and prevailing wage are the biggest reason New Jersey has the highest costs to maintain roads of any state in the country. A terrific resource on project labor agreements—TheTruthAboutPLAs.com— explains that the vast majority (more than 85%) of the private construction workforce belong to non-union “merit shops”. PLAs force these shops to abide by a multitude of onerous rules should they earn a contract for State-funded work. Rather than abide by these terms and put their shop at risk, most refrain from even bidding for State projects. This stifles competition and drives project costs higher.
A 2010 New Jersey Department of Labor report, for example, showed PLA projects took 22 weeks longer to complete than non-PLA projects and the cost per square footage was 30.5% higher. According to Reason Foundation’s 20th Annual Highway Report, New Jersey spends $1.2 million to pave a mile of road, 8.4 times more than the national average. To put in perspective just how bad this is, New York only spends $374,000 per mile for the same work.”
(4) Cut road administration costs (and gut the state budget in general) for the next fiscal year…
The aforementioned Reason report also found New Jersey suffering the 6th highest highway administrative costs: $44,000 per mile! When the national average is only $10,500. Time to combine agencies/authorities, don’t you think?
And debating the proper role of government is an ongoing American preoccupation, but one thing on which we can all agree is that maintaining a transportation infrastructure is right at the top of the list. New Jersey state and local governments will spend about $110.6 billion in FY 2015, only $20 billion less than our neighbor, Pennsylvania, despite the fact that PA has 4 million more people than we do. You’re telling me there isn’t enough money left for roads and bridges? Bullshit! Even ultra-liberals like Asm. Joe Cryan admitted last time around that there were plenty of places to cut in the NJ budget (in that context, he was arguing for full pension payments). Anyone who says there isn’t any place to cut is either lying or blind. Trenton just doesn’t want to make tough decisions and piss of core electoral constituencies who live off of government largess.
(5) Get more road money flowing back to N.J. from D.C.
New Jersey always gets screwed when it comes to a return on our federal investments. We saw it during the immediate Sandy aftermath! Here again, roughly 1/3 of New Jersey’s spent transportation dollars are federally-provided; many states spend receive as much as 50% from Capitol Hill. Our congressmen (and woman, newly-minted) need to do a much better job of bringing home the bacon. Let’s tell Cory Booker to spend less time tweeting poems and debunked “fair wage” rhetoric and focus on THIS for a change. We’d all be better off for it.
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