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Christie plans to issue debt to address transportation

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Mel Evans, Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie's 2016 budget plans call for taking on more debt to pay for New Jersey's transportation trust fund.

Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said Tuesday the governor's budget proposal assumes the Transportation Department will tap into some $600 million in authorized but unused debt.

The nearly $1.6 billion transportation trust fund runs out of money for new projects by July 1, and Christie and lawmakers have been meeting behind the scenes to find a way to pay for projects and repairs.

Christie did not mention the fund during his annual budget address but focused, instead, on the state's troubled pension fund. The Republican governor did, though, say raising sales or income taxes will not solve the state's problems. The line got a standing ovation from Republicans and members of Christie's Cabinet.

Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, a Democrat appointed by Christie last year, stood with his colleagues, but didn't applaud. Fox had called for new revenues for the fund but stopped short of saying taxes should go up.

Fox did not stop to speak to a news reporter after the speech.

Lawmakers responded Tuesday to the solution built into Christie's budget with a mix of criticism and resignation.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, who has called for $2 billion in transportation spending plus the expansion of light rail lines across the state, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto hammered Christie for not mentioning the issue during his speech.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski said it was no secret the governor could have used the bonding authority to help replenish the fund, but his decision to go that route was disappointing because it isn't a long-term solution. Also, Wisniewski said, the decision means some road work will have to go undone.

"The work that needs to be done to stay ahead of the curve will overwhelm us," he said. "I think it's a mistake."

Tom Bracken, chairman of Forward New Jersey, an interest group including business and labor organizations, also expressed disappointment with the governor's speech.

"It is time for the discussion to stop and the solution to be put forward," Bracken said.