Debt Report Shows New Jersey Reaches Borrowing Limit for Road, Bridge Work

New Jersey has reached its borrowing limit for new road and bridge repair work, according to a debt report released Feb. 26 by the state.

📅   Mon March 21, 2016 - Northeast Edition
Michael Catalini - ASSOCIATED PRESS


New Jersey has reached its borrowing limit for new road and bridge repair work, according to a debt report released Feb. 26 by the state.
New Jersey has reached its borrowing limit for new road and bridge repair work, according to a debt report released Feb. 26 by the state.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) New Jersey has reached its borrowing limit for new road and bridge repair work, according to a debt report released Feb. 26 by the state.

The Christie administration issued about $627 million in bonds in December, the last of what was authorized by law, an Office of Public Finance report showed.

For state taxpayers, the news underscores that the more than $1 billion transportation trust fund, which pays for capital projects, is approaching insolvency.

How to keep the fund afloat past June 30 has been at the center of more than a year's worth of wrangling between the Democratic-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Democrats have called for raising the gas tax and potentially lowering retirement or estate taxes. Christie said any proposal to increase the 14.5-cent gasoline tax has to be offset with cuts elsewhere. The news came the same day Christie, who recently dropped out of the Republican presidential race, backed front-runner Donald Trump.

Democratic Sen. and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo said the debt report makes him optimistic a new plan can be agreed to by the June deadline.

“I'm confident that the administration wants to implement a long-term plan,' he said.

The state's public pension fund also piled on debt, about $4.1 billion, plus another $4.4 billion in retirement health benefits. Together the report shows the state's pension and benefits liabilities tally to nearly $100 billion.

The transportation trust fund and public pensions have been the biggest issues facing New Jersey officials. Christie has proposed slashing pensioners' high-value health benefits to save money, but Democrats and public unions have balked at the governor's proposals. They're also moving forward with a proposal to amend the state constitution to require quarterly pension payments, which Christie has criticized saying it would require governors to prioritize pension spending over all other budget categories.

The report also included broader debt figures that showed New Jersey's liabilities for capital projects increased by $1.4 billion, or about 3.4 percent. Most of the new debt came from spending on schools facilities, the report shows.