Republican Gov. Chris Christie nominated a Democratic insider to take control of New Jersey's transportation department at a key moment for the future of funding road work.
Christie announced Thursday that he was picking for transportation commissioner Jamie Fox, who was a top aide to two Democratic former officials — Gov. Jim McGreevey and U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli.
He served as McGreevey's chief of staff and as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and had posts in the Democrats' 2000 U.S. Senate campaign and President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. More than a decade ago, he had a previous stint as transportation commissioner.
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In a brief statement to reporters Thursday, Fox said that was the best job he had ever had.
Democratic lawmakers quickly praised Christie's choice, an indication that Fox will not have a hard time being confirmed by the state Senate.
Fox would be returning to the department amid debate over how to fund road repairs and a discussion of whether it should be merged with the New Jersey Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and other transportation agencies.
The fund for the transportation projects is running out of money. Officials say that by sometime next year, the fund, which is supported by taxes on gasoline, will not be bringing in enough money even to cover the debt for past road projects.
A coalition of New Jersey business groups and planning advocates announced a campaign this week calling for investment in road upgrades and a new funding source for the depleted Transportation Trust Fund.
The ForwardNJ group says the state should be raising $2 billion a year to support infrastructure and transit repairs and upgrades, saying that that the cost of not making improvements is even greater. The group has not endorsed a specific tax hike but has laid out several as options.
The group says that improving roads would save commuters time and would also provide construction and other jobs.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney has been visiting aging bridges to make the same call.
Christie generally has opposed tax increases, but said Thursday that he would consider all options for replenishing the fund.
When a reporter asked Thursday about the possibility of raising the gasoline tax, Christie would not answer specifically. "Is there something about 'Everything's on the table' that's confusing to you?" he asked.
The ForwardNJ group also called for the transportation-agency merger. Christie said it's "not nearly as simple as some have presented it" but said he's open to the possibility.
The previous transportation commissioner, James Simpson, announced in May that he was leaving office in June.