A report, the gas tax and Chris Christie’s team

by William Owen

New Jersey is nearing financial collapse. A Republican candidate was elected in a highly Democratic state against a Democratic incumbent. Government corruption is widespread. Over a million residents of the state are without health insurance. The PATH train is running slower.

The last one is just a minor annoyance of mine on my commute. The rest are setting up New Jersey political drama in a way that might rival the Tudor courts under Shakespeare’s pen.

An article in yesterday’s Star-Ledger focused on a PEW Center for the States report that New Jersey faces fiscal ruin, balanced against the announcement of Governor-elect Chris Christie’s transition team.

There can be no doubt that the report increases the weight on both Christie and the legislature to find ways to close the deficit and shore up the state’s finances. Christie vowed last week to veto any proposed tax increase, but a reduction of funding for state programs will not be the clear-cut option if it means the loss of jobs, and new ideas need to be found.

In particular, many are urging an increase in the gasoline tax.

New Jersey ranks 47th in the country in terms of its gas tax, which has stayed level since 2002 at 14.5 cents per gallon while the price of gas has gone ever higher.

With so much corridor traffic pulsing through New Jersey via the interstates, and with so much of current gas-tax revenue going toward paying off existing infrastructure debts, a gas tax of 10 to 20 cents more per gallon would make up a huge portion of the budget shortfall while limiting the burden on residents. A fuel-tax increase would also push more people, and revenue, to the state’s extensive public transportation network, relieving some of the budgetary burden there as well.

Christie has stated his purpose to cut regulation across the state, particularly for developers, but a lack of restraint and oversight is not likely to be an easy sell following the massive corruption scandal of a few months ago. Blindly building condos, and the ridiculousness of a venture like Xanadu, will create only temporary jobs, foster further corruption and ultimately lead to lowered income levels for the middle class.

Instead, the new administration should focus on smart growth, shaping communities in ways that promote long-term viability. Targeting particular sectors of industry, such as biotechnology, could result in sustained, healthy economic growth without sacrificing protections for residents and the environment.

Hopefully Christie’s transition team, which includes two Democratic politicians, the head of a real estate investment firm, a Chamber of Commerce president and a former president of PSE&G, will take the PEW report to heart and begin making the changes New Jersey needs.

Green Jersey contributor William Owen lives in Jersey City.

Posted by billowen on November 12th, 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “A report, the gas tax and Chris Christie’s team”

  1. Bill Wolfe Says:

    You keep on hoping there William.

    Keep Hope Alive!

    (BTW, how many times did Christie rule out any tax increase?)

    (also – I think all gas tax proponents stress the fact that the revenue would be dedicated to transportation infrastructure investments, and not be used as a general revenue tool, especially to close budget gaps. Maybe one of those slow PATH trains will provide some time for you to read up on all that).

    Ah, but hope does spring eternal!

  2. Bill Wolfe Says:

    William – Bergen Record reports that Christie will implement the republican “tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations” – aka trickle down policy:

    Christie rules out tax hikes

  3. William Owen Says:

    Bill, I have a hard time relating Christie’s comments to the press with the reality of the day to day politics of his office come January 19th. Campaign promises don’t translate well into economic reality. He has an $8 billion budget gap and he promised not to raise taxes during a recession. He might as well be saying “Read my lips”.

  4. Bill Wolfe Says:

    We will see, William – time will tell. But let me explain why I posted a harsh comment.

    I have a problem with what I call the Pew mentality – (I worked there) – e.g. issue some pie in the sky policy report, but do nothing on the organizing, political, and media side to actually make it happen.

    I also have a problem with what seems to be a collective failure by ENGO’s to face reality and to honestly confront that reality, often in favor of pie in the sky pipe dreams. Corzine didn’t support a gas tax and NJ ENGO’s never demanded or advocated one – but they did advocate the failed and highly cost ineffective enhanced I&M and Easy Pass systems. (yes, I know, Corzine had a death bed conversion). Similarly, neither did McGreevey, who followed the advice of pollsters instead of sound public policy on this issue. I was there.

    Last, I have a problem with what I’ll call the lazy factor – failure to do sufficent homework to understand the policy and policy framework – but no hesitation to spout off about it.

  5. Bill Wolfe Says:

    one last word on your “read my lips” point:

    If you think that Christie will fold like George HW Bush and be forced to do the right thing, due to fiscal reality, opposition by interest groups, or by progressive Dems in the Legislature, think again.

    Look at California and the politics of decline, scarcity, and racism for a roadmap.

    Christie will play to his base – the right and wealthy and powerful – and hurt a lot of little people in the process.

    Just yesterday he said he would provide a tax cut to the rich and corporations, despite a huge structural budget deficit.

    Senator Sweeney is sending signals of accommodation, and I see no democratic loyal opposition or alternatives emerging.

  6. Bill Wolfe Says:

    on point of gas tax:

    “Christie said he would work to boost wind turbine and solar panel manufacturing in the state and require solar farms at the state‚Äôs 800 landfills. He opposes a gas tax to fund the Transportation Trust Fund.”


  7. Bill Wolfe Says:

    Well, William, as I indicated: time will tell.

    So, 18 months later, how does it look?

    Looks like everything I said has happened.


  8. William Owen Says:

    It looks like you’ve been sitting around waiting to tell everyone how right you were for the last 18 months. It looks like instead of going out and getting in Christie’s face you’ve been sitting around waiting to tell someone on your OWN SIDE just how off-base their OPINION is.

    Do you know why I never responded to any of your other comments? Because all you could do was analyze. You offer no suggestions. You offer no solutions. I’m tired of people on the left who are so good at telling everyone else how wrong they are but can offer no solutions to the problem.

    Tell you what, you go out a write progressive, environmentally sound policy so air-tight that Christie HAS to enact it. FIND A WAY FORWARD OR GO HOME.

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