Christie: A gas tax hike is ‘on the table for discussion’
As New Jersey lawmakers and special interest groups talk about the need to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), the idea of a gas tax increase has gained momentum. Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly said he will not raise taxes, but would he consider a hike on the gas tax?
Christie addressed the issue Wednesday night on Townsquare Media's monthly "Ask the the Governer show.
"Everything is on the table for discussion, but I'm unwilling at this point in October to commit to anything on the air when I'm really going to be negotiating with members of the legislature, both the Democratic and Republican leadership," Christie said. "What I've always said is that I'm willing to discuss everything with the Legislature, but there has to be give and take so we'll see how it goes."
The Assembly Transportation Committee has held two public hearings on the TTF. Revenue generating possibilities have been discussed, but no concrete proposals or solutions have been set forth. A gas tax increase is considered the third rail of New Jersey politics in many circles, but some who testified at the hearings spoke of the benefits such as raising a lot of money. Others addressed the pitfalls like asking already over-taxed residents to pay even more.
"The Transportation Trust Fund is out of money," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), in an emailed joint statement following an Oct. 14 hearing. "Because of our inability to reach a consensus over the past 20 years, we've continually spent the same amount of money and borrowed increasingly larger sums of money. And, if we care about our economy, we need to find a solution. If we hate the length of our commute, we need to find a solution. If we're worried about the wear and tear on our cars, we need to find a solution."
Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) has not publicly advocated for a gas tax increase, but he has called for an honest discussion about every funding option.
"What we've been doing by borrowing, we've been taxing our future generations and we're kicking the can down the road, and that's not acceptable. We need to figure out a solution," said Prieto in the same emailed statement.
Legislation introduced by state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union) would increase the gas tax by five cents per gallon every year for three years. Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative citizens group staunchly opposes a gas tax hike.
"Lawmakers have a duty to make tough choices and do everything in their power to avoid raising the gas tax and making New Jersey's tax climate even worse than it already is. Raising the gas tax is the easy choice, not the tough choice," said state director Daryn Iwicki in a press release.
Funding solutions suggested by AFP include conducting an audit of the TTF, possibly using general fund revenues and cutting government costs.
"Ask the Governor" host Eric Scott asked the governor if we should expect a quick resolution to the TTF funding woes.
"I would hope that we'd have it by the end of the year, certainly by the time the budget (address) comes in February," Christie responded. "Everything's on the table for me to consider and I've said all along that we'll have discussions with the legislature and see if we can come to some kind of agreement on how we fund transporation projects going forward and how we deal with the other issues that surround the way we live and work here in this state."