Commentary

Ocean County Would Suffer With Gas Tax Hike

By JOHN NOVAK | Sep 07, 2016

After months, and multiple challenges from myself, the Ocean County freeholders finally passed a resolution opposing a 23-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax hike, following Barnegat’s lead and acceding to public pressure.

For months the state Legislature and the governor have wrangled with and schemed about imposing a 23-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase on New Jersey motorists to replenish monies raided from the Transportation Trust Fund. In North Jersey, where public transportation is much more prevalent and commutes are typically shorter, the sting of this oppressive tax compared to other funding methods would not be as badly felt as here in South Jersey.

In Ocean County, where residents commute more than most and where tourism is a significant component of the local economy, the gas tax would be especially painful. This proposed tax is just plain bad for Ocean County.

My commute is shorter than most. I travel daily between my home in Barnegat to my office in Toms River. I also travel the state, though mostly central and southern New Jersey to various courts. The gas tax would hit my wallet and that of my clients by way of pass-through expenses. Many of my friends and fellow Ocean County residents commute hundreds of miles per week. This terrible tax would pull hard-earned money right out of those family budgets and hit those who work for a living the hardest.

As an elected official, I knew that representing the people meant speaking up for the people, even when that causes one to stray from the party line. The residents I serve are dead-set against this tax, and rightfully so. I suggested to the township committee that Barnegat Township pass a resolution opposing this tax. This public statement was passed unanimously by Committeemen Frank Caputo and Alfonso Cirulli, Committeewoman Susan McCabe, Deputy Mayor Al Bille and myself. I am so proud of my colleagues for taking this stand on behalf of the residents and representing the public’s will. As far as I know, Barnegat was first in Ocean County by taking this action.

I went to the Ocean County freeholders meeting on July 6 and challenged them to follow Barnegat’s lead by opposing this tax. I shared that I had heard rumors in Trenton and elsewhere about County Chairman George Gilmore’s lobbying group is having a North Jersey client supporting this tax. I expressed my concern that the freeholders’ silence may have been connected to party loyalty or discipline, putting that ahead of the people they swore an oath to serve. The freeholders, all of them, remained silent in the face of my comments and after an uncomfortable pause, Freeholder Director Jack Kelly adjourned the meeting. 

There are benefits to toeing the party line: jobs; appointments to boards, commissions and foundations; invitations to A-list parties and events; selection or appointment to positions that are historically safe havens for staying as long as one wishes. There is also a price to pay. Not unlike a horse that is broken to bit and bridle, your path is directed and your steps controlled.

What do you do when your personal values and views mesh most closely with the Republican platform but the Republican Party does not always appear to hold as dear as you do to the founders’ intended limits of government and the devotion to service that public service should dictate? What I’m doing is running as an independent for the board of freeholders. Some ask why I am running against the Republican Party in Ocean County. I say that I am not; I am actually running for the Republican Party in Ocean County, for the party that drew me to it many years ago, for the party that is conservative, responsible and dedicated to the people it represents and for the future of my lifelong home of Ocean County.

Many Republicans have approached me, quietly and confidentially, thanking and encouraging me for championing publicly their privately held cause(s). Some, however – actually only one or two – embrace the ways that my party seems to have strayed toward and have taken umbrage with my candidacy.

I do not fashion myself as a wild stallion running aimlessly about the prairie, but rather a humble yet confident horse that can be bridled for the work of the people. I can be led to pull a wagon or plow or work as part of a yoke team; I can also be outfitted with the accouterments of battle, but the load must be legitimate and the combat must be conscientious.

I was asked what I would be like and do as a freeholder. I pointed to my position as a committeeman and mayor in Barnegat Township, where our public meetings are video recorded, aired through a local cable network and available for viewing on the internet. Compare the openness and transparency of Barnegat with the Ocean County freeholders, who have continuously refused to produce audio or video feeds of their meetings for public access.

As Barnegat’s mayor I re-instituted public workshop meetings, where the public can listen and observe the dialogue and exchanges among the committee members on matters presented for consideration as an agenda item. Other than items specified by state statute, the discussion of the public’s business should be done in public; I feel strongly about that. The freeholders seem to shun and avoid the public they are elected to serve whereas in Barnegat I sought to engage the public with the handling of the public’s business more, not less. Public officials who seek to avoid public engagement, public involvement and public scrutiny may be well advised to reconsider their suitability for public positions.

The public’s will, at least here in Ocean County, was crystal clear in regard to the 23-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax. Barnegat acted immediately and decisively to the call of the people. The freeholders either did not hear the public’s cry or ignored it. Maybe they were guided by party leadership, like a trained horse that takes no step without direction. I do not know for sure why they were silent, but I know that it was not until Aug. 17 that they finally passed a resolution opposing the gas tax.

They may have been late to the party, but I do thank them for coming.

John Novak, mayor of Barnegat, is running for freeholder as an Independent.

 

 

 

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