Like the Reason Foundation, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) was founded by the owners of Koch Industries, a $115 billion global corporation that operates in 59 countries around the world. Its core business is petroleum and it zealously protects that business, as one would expect it to.
AFP likes to portray itself as a "membership" organization, but unlike other membership organizations here in America, AFP's members don't get to vote on who leads its national and state organizations. Those decisions are made for them by individuals closely connected with the owners of Koch Industries. That means that AFP is essentially a lobby group, so we perfectly understand why it would rather see property taxes increased on every homeowner in New Jersey instead of a petroleum tax increase on products produced by Koch Industries.
Today, AFP sent out a very emotional press release about the $341 million boondoggle to repair Route 35. We all agree that construction projects are targets for political corruption, inefficiencies, and over-regulation in New Jersey. But we also know -- as AFP does -- that raising these issues does not solve the problem of how to fund road and bridge maintenance and repairs now that the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is out of money.
Unlike many liberals, conservatives do not respond to mere emotional appeals like AFP's press release today. We prefer to listen to a rational argument that appeals to our intellect.
Yes, something needs to be done to address the political corruption, inefficiencies, and over-regulation of construction projects in New Jersey. As a start, AFP might join with those of us who are trying to undo the gubernatorial order that killed the state's "fast-track" regulatory program that would speed up construction and save taxpayers' millions each year. Now where is AFP on this cost-saving reform? We would like to know.
For two years now a solar construction scandal has rocked northwest New Jersey (where AFP is based and where the group's leadership lives) with all the political corruption and boondoggle AFP could ask for -- but not a peep about it has come from AFP. It is as if they were asleep, or perhaps the leaders of AFP don't read their local newspapers? Of course, this construction project doesn't concern a product near and dear to the hearts of Koch Industries.
Instead of making specific suggestions on how we can address the political corruption, inefficiencies, and over-regulation of construction projects in New Jersey, AFP has only one suggestion -- DON'T RAISE TAXES ON PETROLEUM PRODUCTS! Now why would that be?
Here's what AFP isn't telling you.
The Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) collects money from the gas tax and then uses that money to maintain and repair state roads and bridges. The TTF also sends money to local governments (counties and municipalities) so that they can afford to maintain and repair the roads and bridges that they own.
The TTF is nearly bankrupt. There will be no money for the maintenance and repair of the roads and bridges owned by the state AND there will be no money to send to local governments to maintain and repair their roads and bridges.
It's happening already.
Last month the town of Montville, in Morris County, went to the TTF for funding to repair a road. It was turned down. Note the shock of township leaders:
Due to the New Jersey Transportation Fund’s unfunded state, Canning said he saw something he had never seen in 25 years of working in government: a grant denial.
“There were 641 applications to the NJ Department of Transportation requesting more than $253 million of the $78.75 million available in municipal aide grant funds,” said Canning, “and they did not approve our Brittany Road project, therefore, all $650,000 will have to be self-funded.”
What that "will have to be self-funded" means is that the property taxpayers of Montville will be stuck paying for those repairs.
As more and more local governments get turned down, their leaders will have a decision to make: Either they raise property taxes on every homeowner and business to pay for the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges; or they allow those roads and bridges to fall into disrepair, and become unsafe.
If local governments take the second option and allow roads and bridges to become unsafe, they will be left with just two choices: Close those roads and bridges as they become unsafe, or accept that there will be lawsuits for negligence when people are injured or killed on those unsafe roads and bridges. Of course, the legal bills and settlements for such lawsuits will also result in the need to raise property taxes -- so the taxpayer will lose either way.
Don't think it will happen? Well, it already has.
It took 145 victims, 22 children, 13 deaths, and one bridge collapse for the Legislature in Minnesota to finally raise the gas tax to fund road and bridge maintenance and repairs. Of course, at that point they also had to pay out many millions more in hospital care, rehabilitation, on-going health care, and negligence settlements -- as well as totally reconstructing a bridge.
Do we really want to wait until we are burying children?
In the real world, we all know that when the money runs out, and the workers don't get paid, the repairs will stop.
And then there's this to consider: Right now, New Jersey taxpayers subsidize out-of-state drivers who use our roads. If we do nothing, we will end up paying $11 billion over the next 25 years to subsidize out-of-state drivers.
Approximately one-third of gas tax revenues in New Jersey come from out-of-state drivers. All property taxes come from the people of New Jersey. So which do you think is the best way to pay for improvements to roads and bridges, an increase in the gas tax or an increase in property taxes?
Let us know how you feel. Your thoughts and ideas are always welcome.