New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund
Earlier in the year, Democrat John Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, called for an increase in the gas tax from 10.5 cent- per-gallon to 29.5 cents. However, our representatives in Trenton punted and now legislators aim to take up the matter during a "lame duck” session in November or December. Once safely elected, the State Assembly will be back to business as usual, spending with abandon and raising taxes.
In the mean time, the bankrupt state transportation fund has become an issue in the gubernatorial race. The Republican candidate, Doug Forrester has issued a pledge not to raise any taxes, including the gas tax and the Democrat, Jon Corzine adamantly refuses to make a no-tax-hike pledge. Forrester plans to replenish the transportation fund from within the state’s $28 billion budget and Corzine is banking on the “lame duck” legislators to bail him out by raising the gas tax before a new Governor is sworn into office.
In terms of the gas tax, it really doesn’t matter who wins the governor’s race or control of the state’s assembly in November – the tax will be increased and signed into law before any newly elected representatives take office in 2006.
Now this may come as a surprise, but we believe the gas tax is a fair tax and it should be raised if necessary to fund the state’s transportation needs. Building and maintaining public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and transit systems should be the responsibility of state government and a tax that is tied directly to an individual’s use of a public service is an equitable method for raising the necessary funds.
Public infrastructure should be self-financing through tolls, fares, and other transportation related consumption taxes, such as the one on gasoline. The rub is getting our politicians to use the revenues generated from the gas tax strictly for roads and related transpiration needs. This is the issue Corzine and Forrester should be debating - how each would ensure revenue from the gas tax is not used for any other purpose.
Aside from limiting the use of gas tax revenue, there is another idea that could help New Jersey rejuvenate the state’s Transportation Trust Fund – stop sending gas tax revenue to Washington.
Republican House member, Scott Garrett, has introduced a reform bill that would let states opt out of the federal gas tax, in part or entirely, and allow a state to keep the revenue from the 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax the federal government now imposes.
"The National Interstate Highway System has been completed," said Garrett in a statement. "There needs to be a new system set in place that allows the states more discretion over the transportation programs, maximizes the resources available for our transportation system, and is more equitable for New Jersey and other donor states like it."Just as New Jersey receives only receives 57 cents for every tax dollar we send to Washington, the state receives only 92 cents for every gas tax dollar collected in the state and sent to the federal government. The Garrett reform measure is something New Jersey’s entire congressional delegation should be able to back. Unfortunately, the state’s Democrat controlled delegation, led by Senator Corzine, enjoy controlling the slush fund that enables them to buy off special interests and fund projects that have nothing to do with transpiration infrastructure.
Once again New Jersey gets the short end of the federal appropriation stick and it has nothing to do with the “rich state/ poor state” meme. For example: Alaska gets $5.18 for every gas tax dollar it pays in, Washington, D.C. gets $3.32; Rhode Island, receives $2.40; and South Dakota, $2.13. New Jersey’s poor return can only be attributed to poor representation by our Democrat Senators and Congressmen.
So rather than debate a raise in the state’s gas tax, a done deal before either candidate can become governor, Forrester and Corzine should debate plans for limiting the use of gas tax revenue to roads, brides and mass transit and Senator Corzine's failure to secure New Jersey’s fair share of federal tax revenue.