Local Legislators Vehemently Oppose Gas Tax Hike
A proposed 23-cent per gallon gas tax increase had New Jersey motorists buzzing at the end of June.
Drivers got a reprieve when that legislation, which had been passed by the Assembly and had the support of Gov. Chris Christie, died when the Senate refused to vote on the bill.
The issue, however, isn’t going away. The New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for road and bridge projects throughout the Garden State – exceptions include the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, which rely on toll revenue, and federally funded projects such as the work on the causeway bridges that connect LBI to the mainland – as well as New Jersey Transit expenditures such as the planned purchase of 772 cruiser buses, is running on fumes. Christie ordered a halt to work on all projects that rely on TTF funding on July 1 and that order remains in effect.
So the battle over how to replenish the fund continues in Trenton. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, and their leaders locked horns back in June, with Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto clashing over ways to reduce the sting of a gas tax increase by reducing other taxes in the state. Prieto, backed by Christie, proposed rolling back the state’s sales tax from 7 to 6 percent; Sweeney offered a lengthy package headed by a gradual elimination of the estate tax. They could not reach agreement at that time and the 23-cent gas tax hike died.
On July 23 Sweeney and Prieto reached a complicated compromise that does not include a reduction in the sales tax but instead would phase out the estate tax over the course of 3.5 years, increase the earned income credit for the working poor, give a $500 income tax deduction for all motorists with an income under $100,000 and a $3,000 income tax exemption to all veterans. But the 23-cent gas tax increase remained.
That’s something Southern Ocean County’s legislators – Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove – won’t stand for. They released a blistering joint statement on Monday that called the gas tax hike “regressive and unconscionable.”
“Simply stated, the majority of our constituents cannot afford an excessive gas tax increase and still pay their bills …
“Unquestionably, our constituents will be even more disparately impacted by the fact that there is no mass transportation in the general area. Our legislative district is largely composed of commuters living in bedroom communities who drive considerable distances to their jobs.
“More than 126,000 of our constituents are registered EZPass users, the most of any legislative district in the state. This is significant as suburban and rural area residents will be hardest hit by the gas tax increase just as they were with the (former Gov.) Corzine toll hikes.
“In the end, our constituents won’t get a good return on having to pay more at the pump as a substantial amount of the revenue from the gas tax increase will go to fund mass transportation projects primarily located in urban areas. It will be the same situation as State school aid. Suburban and rural residents will subsidize urban areas that will receive a windfall of funding, only in this case for mass transportation.
“Worse for our district is that recreational boaters and commercial fisherman also stand to be hit hard as well, which is sure to have a ripple effect on local economies in our area, including those still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. More broadly, the increase in fuel costs incurred by businesses will only be passed on to consumers via higher-priced goods and services.”
Connors, Rumpf and Gove have a plan for funding the Transportation Trust Fund that is simplicity itself.
“One proposal already considered by the Assembly included increasing the gas tax but then reducing the sales tax by a penny. Why not dedicate a penny of the existing sales tax to fund transportation projects without raising any tax?”
Christie is expected to veto the new Democratic plan should it come to a vote so the Democrats are trying to round up enough GOP votes to override that veto, something that has not happened in Christie’s time in office. It is obvious they’ll never get those votes from Connors, Rumpf and Gove.
— Rick Mellerup