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NJ Senate Democrats Put Brakes On Christie's Gas Tax Proposal

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A plan to hike the gas tax by 23 cents while cutting the sales tax in New Jersey seemed like a done deal, until the New Jersey State Senate president put the temporary brakes on it Thursday.

As CBS2's Christine Sloan reported, Gov. Chris Christie has proposed raising the gas tax by 23 cents to 37.5 cents a gallon. The sales tax would gradually be reduced to 6 percent and there would be a cut in retirement income taxes.

It seemed like a done deal between the Republican governor and Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), until Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) stepped in.

"At this point in time, we are not going to see a vote here in the Senate," Sweeney said.

The Democrats, who comprise the majority in both houses, said the sales tax would put a huge hole in the budget. Both Republicans and Democrats agree – a gas tax hike is inevitable.

"The Transportation Trust Fund has to be fixed -- there are no free roads," Sweeney said.

Sweeney said he is sitting down with Christie to come up with a compromise before August 1, when all road projects cease.

Several Republican senators oppose Christie's deal and support a bill by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge).

"The sales tax is not part of the Sarlo plan," said state Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sparta).

"I am confident that the (Transportation Trust Fund) will get renewed, and we're going to provide tax fairness and tax cuts for the people of New Jersey," added Sarlo.

Other key New Jersey Democrats are also determined to bring the gas tax hike deal to a halt, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reports.

"We are not going to accept the Assembly proposal, for sure," said State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union).

The governor, claiming he has the support of the Senate, is intending to use the tax revenues to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund that pays for road projects.

"It is called tax fairness," Christie said. "Of course they don't want to pay more, but they don't want to drive in pot holes and they don't want bridges to have problems."

Increasing the gas tax by 23 cents would cost the average driver around $100 a year, Christie says, while cutting the sales tax would mean more than $400 in annual savings, WCBS 880's Sean Adams reported.

But some Democrats believe it will hurt the poor and middle class. They say the sales tax cut will lead to a budget deficit, wiping out crucial programs.

"The governor is doing more bizarre things than he has ever done," said Lesniak.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) suggests a short-term fix: borrow for roads and bridges.

"This governor leaves office in 18 months," Wisniewski said. "We need to find an 18-month stop-gap solution until we have a rational occupant of the governor's office."

They also say there's no tax on food or clothing, so the governor is setting up the rich to benefit on big purchases.

"He wants to stand up in the State House and say, 'Look at me, I cut a broad-based tax in New Jersey," said State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).

"They say every tax cut helps the rich," Christie said. "There isn't a tax cut they are for."

On Thursday morning, Christie dodged cameras and questions about the gas tax vote during an appearance at a Paterson charter school.

While construction unions support a gas tax hike, the majority of residents oppose it.

At one gas station on Route 17, the price of regular gas would jump from $2.03 to $2.26 if the gas tax hike is approved, 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported.

"In Jersey in the past we've been famous, kind of, for our low gas prices," one driver said. "And that's not going to be the case anymore."

"Twenty-three cents is a lot," said driver Sheldon Charlton, who rejects the governor's argument that the hike is necessary to pay for the transportation trust fund to pay for roads. "I think there are other ways to do it and this is not the way."

Other drivers expressed a more resigned nature.

"If they need to fix the roads, they need to fix the roads," another driver said.

"Let's go, let's get it done," said union worker David Lagas. "Go anywhere in the country, we're just beginning to catch up; it'll pay the bills."

Sweeney said a vote on any compromise would come after the Fourth of July weekend. Until then, negotiations continue at the Statehouse.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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