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Gas tax increase is tough sell with lawmakers, voters #8212 and might not help anyway Spotlight on Transportation

Robert Briant, Jr., CEO of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association, said there are “many options” to raise revenue.

Since its inception, the Transportation Trust Fund’s primary funding source has been motor fuel tax revenues — otherwise known as the gas tax.

Most politicians don’t care to utter those three words in the same sentence as “increase,” lest they fall out of public favor.

Nearly two-thirds of adult voters in New Jersey oppose any gas tax hike, according to Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

As a result, politicians have been so averse to touching it that New Jersey’s gas tax has not been raised since 1988. The state’s 10.5-cents-per-gallon motor fuel tax is the second lowest in the country. The national average is roughly 10 cents per gallon more.

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Not only hasn’t it been raised, but inflation has actually rendered it even less substantial over the years; and, according to state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), today it’s insufficient as a funding source.

That’s why he did what most wouldn’t — he introduced a bill in March calling for at least a 15-cent increase in the gas tax over three years. This translates to an additional $750 million by the third year of its implementation for road and bridge repairs, he said.

The proposal came four months after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed a new transportation funding law that will gradually increase taxes on motor fuels. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell also publicly announced support for a 10-cent gas tax increase to help fund transportation projects.

New Jersey’s own residents would be more open to the idea if they realized driving on unmaintained roads costs an average of $601 in repair costs per motorist annually, Lesniak said, citing a report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“The business community is for the most part very supportive (of the legislation),” he added. “They care about their employees, and having them not be delayed in getting to work — and the money potential customers are paying for car repairs.”

Lesniak is simultaneously pushing for a constitutional amendment that would dedicate all of the state’s gas tax to the Transportation Trust Fund, and make it impossible for it to be diverted.

Since 2002, all revenue sources not constitutionally dedicated to the trust fund — heavy truck fees, good-driver surcharges and others — were redirected away from it to help close New Jersey’s state budget gap.

Brett Johnson