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.