GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Improving New Jersey’s infrastructure and bringing more traffic to Atlantic City International Airport were just a couple of the topics under discussion Friday as the Southern New Jersey Development Council held its annual Sound Off session at the Ram’s Head Inn.

About a dozen legislators met with leaders in business and nonprofits to discuss how they could work together to improve the area’s economy.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, called the Sound Off “a time to get together with people of like mind and discuss issues that are important to us.” The area’s business people can help him understand “how Washington can help or really muck up what’s going on,” he said.

State Sen. James Whelan, D-Atlantic, moderated a discussion on transportation with Assemblymen John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, and Dominic DiCicco, R-Atlantic, and Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland.

The state Transportation Trust Fund, formed in 1984 to pay for bridge and road repairs, is running out of money, Amodeo said. Gov. Chris Christie’s plan will allow payment of only debt service for the next five years.

All the legislators agreed that raising the gasoline tax, the lowest in the country, is not the answer. But they disagreed as to how to pay to repair New Jersey’s crumbling infrastructure.

One study found 90 percent of the state’s roads and bridges to be sub-par, Greenwald said.

“We must have an infrastructure if we are going to attract businesses here and get them to relocate here,” but borrowing another $4 billion is the wrong way to go, Greenwald said.

DiCicco said raising taxes will send the wrong message to the business community. He said southern New Jersey legislators should fight for their fair share of the funding that is already in place.

All agreed there are no easy answers, but that something has to be done.

“We’re not a Third World country. We need to improve our roads and bridges,” Van Drew said.

Atlantic City International Airport needs to expand to bring more visitors to southern New Jersey, the legislators said.

Atlantic City has lost the “convenience gamblers, people who are willing to sit in a warehouse in Pennsylvania” and play slot machines and card games, and needs to attract people to replace them, Van Drew said.

The airport has to sign up more low-cost carriers to bring people to the area, and southern New Jersey needs a national marketing program, Amodeo said.

Contact Elaine Rose:

609-272-7217

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