With Trenton officials saying revenues from the 23-cent per gallon gas tax hike two years ago are not meeting revenue expectations, rumbling from the statehouse have indicated another gas tax increase could be on the horizon, drawing ire from the Ocean County freeholders.
“Here we go again,” said Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little. “This Board of Freeholders will vehemently oppose an additional increase in the gasoline tax, as we did two years ago when Trenton hiked the tax by 23 cents per gallon.”
The 2016 increase moved New Jersey from the second-lowest taxed fuel to the sixth-highest in the nation. But despite the large, 23-cent jump, Murphy administration officials say the tax is not meeting revenue expectations. State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio told NJ Spotlight that a decision on whether to raise taxes – again – should be made in the coming weeks, and would likely be in effect this fall.
The problem: Garden State residents simply aren’t buying enough gas. The 2016 law took that possibility into account and included language that would allow the state to further increase the tax if consumption declined. The law set a baseline of $1.16 billion in new revenue and said the tax could be increased if that figure was not being met. Based on current projections, an additional increase would be two to four cents per gallon.
The freeholders blasted the possibility of a second increase in just two years, saying Ocean County residents have some of the longest commutes in the state and do not have the same level of public transportation options as those in North Jersey or the Philadelphia suburbs, leaving them disproportionately reliant on cars. In all, 82 percent of Ocean County resident use a private vehicle for work, said Freeholder Joseph Vicari.
“This is a far cry from Northern New Jersey Counties that are served by numerous bus, train and light rail lines,” Vicari said. “The gas tax is unfair to Ocean County residents who have no other choice than to drive to work.”
Making things worse, Ocean County residents are more likely to rely on tolled highways – in this case, the Garden State Parkway – than those in other areas of New Jersey who can more easily use local roads or highways without tolls to get to their destination.
“Ocean County drivers already pay the most in gasoline and tolls because they have the longest commutes in the state,” Vicari said. “This latest proposal will only add to their burden.”
Vicari, vehemently opposing the plan, expressed disappointment with the result – or lack thereof – from the original gas tax increase.
“We’ve seen no progress on the widening of Route 9,” Vicari said. “The Route 166 project in Toms River continues to drag on with no end in sight. When the state finally decided to rebuild the Mathis Bridge they simply replaced the drawbridge with another drawbridge instead of building a higher span that wouldn’t delay traffic.”
The decision will ultimately fall to a recommendation by Muoio, a former Democratic freeholder from Mercer County.
Any increase, by law, would have to take effect Oct. 1, and the 2016 law requires a 30 day notice period. Therefore, a decision on any increase would have to be made by Sept. 1.