Connors, Rumpf and Gove Vote Against Gas Tax IncreaseRefused to Buckle Under Governor’s Pressure
With most of the media attention in the past week being focused on the bizarre 2016 presidential race you might have missed the fact that the New Jersey Legislature passed a 23-cent gasoline tax increase last Friday.
The measure, which Gov. Chris Christie has said he will sign into law, will go into effect on Nov. 1 or, at latest, two weeks after Christie actually affixes his John Hancock.
The Garden State hadn’t increased its gasoline tax from 14.5 cents per gallon since 1988, leaving it with the second lowest such tax in all 50 states behind only Alaska. Now, in one fell swoop, it will have a gasoline tax of 37.5 cents a gallon, the seventh highest in the country and far higher than the national average of 21 cents.
The bill passed by a 24-14 vote in the Senate; the vote in the Assembly was 44-27. Three of the no votes in Trenton came from the members of the 9th District, which includes all of Southern Ocean County.
Variations of the bill had been considered and rejected for months. Gov. Christie and the Democratic leadership – Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto – had agreed that a gas tax increase was necessary to pump desperately needed funds into the Transportation Trust Fund that pays for road and bridge construction and repairs throughout the state as well as New Jersey Transit projects but which, as the year went on, was running on fumes. They disagreed, however, on how to offset the gas tax increase with other tax cuts, leading to stalemate and Christie’s executive order, which called for a halt to all non-essential road, bridge and mass transit projects on July 1. Christie wanted a penny cut in the state’s sales tax; the Democrats worried that would create a budget deficit.
The two sides finally agreed on a compromise at the end of September and moved the bill through the Legislature. New Jersey’s sales tax rate will be cut but only from 7 percent to 6.875 percent next year and to 6.625 percent in 2018. The state’s estate tax will also be phased out by 2018, which had critics complaining most of the offsetting tax decreases would benefit the Garden State’s richest residents.
The 9th District legislators – Sen. Christopher J. Connors and Assembly members Brian E. Rumpf and DiAnne C. Gove – wanted no part of the compromise. They didn’t want the gas tax increased even if corresponding cuts were made, considering it all a shell game. Instead, they simply wanted a penny of the existing sales tax to be dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund. That would have led to a cut in state expenditures in other areas, something they are in favor of and are convinced their constituents are as well.
They released a blistering statement soon after voting against the measure on Friday.
“The entire charade leading up to the gas tax increase has been a disgrace and an insult to the working class commuters who will be forced to bail out of the state. For us, this scheme never passed the smell test. Regardless of the political pressure, we would never sell out our constituents and, accordingly, we didn’t hesitate to break with the Governor on this tax increase.
“First, this tax disparately targets many of our constituents who are commuters living in bedroom communities, with no access to mass transit, driving considerable distances to their jobs. Just as with school funding, residents of our area will pay more only to watch as a substantial amount of revenue from the gas tax increase will go to fund mass transportation projects primarily located in urban areas.
“More than 126,000 of our constituents are registered EZPass users, the most of any legislative district in the state. Not coincidently, these are the same middle class people hit hardest by the Corzine toll hikes. Consumers will also see the gas tax passed on through the higher cost of goods while having less disposable income because they are paying more at the pump.”
— Rick Mellerup