Back in 2012, Chris Christie killed plans for a new and much-needed rail tunnel from New York to New Jersey. Most pundits reflexively blamed the decision on Christie’s desire to run for president and the need to suck-up to the right. It was The New York Times that eventually revealed the real reason was less about 2016 politics, and “more about avoiding the need to raise the state’s gasoline tax.”
Since coming into office in 2009, Christie has fought tooth and nail to prevent tax increases under his watch. Sure, it’s a gimmick designed to make voters in Iowa love him, but it has been an effective political message for him as he barnstorms the country stumping for Republican candidates and building a nest for his inevitable presidential run.
But how has that policy affected New Jerseyans back at home? Poorly.
Basically, under Christie’s leadership, the Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for local transportation projects like roads and bridges, is broke. Sure, it takes in a whopping $1.2 billion a year, but it has also accumulated $14.8 billion in debt. Just about every dollar that comes in is used to pay off the debt, and if nothing is done to fix it, the fund will go belly-up starting July 1.
It’s not as if Christie created the problem. Politicians have been looting the fund and refusing to deal with the problem since its creation in 1984. But Christie has made the problem much more dire. As NJ Spotlight noted, Mr. No Gas Tax increased transportation debt by a staggering $1 billion more than expected during his first four budgets. He was also forced to plug a hole in the budget with an expensive, one-time bond infusion of $250 million, forcing taxpayers to pay for higher interest rates. That’s been Christie’s M.O. since becoming governor – shafting taxpayers with extra “fees” while publicly fighting and campaigning on keeping “taxes” low. It plays well in conservative circles where drooling intellectuals still include “Ronald Reagan” in every sentence, but back at home, it’s been devastating for taxpayers and our economy.
It’s gotten to the point where the Democrat’s solution, which would average out to a once-unthinkable 25 cents a gallon increase by targeting the state’s petroleum products gross receipts tax, would raise $1.25 billion annually for road repairs. That amounts to about 80 cents a day for motorists, who still oppose an increase despite paying an average of $600 a year in car repairs due to the state’s banged-up roadways.
New Jersey’s gas tax is also ridiculously low when compared to surrounding states. It’s been over 23 years since the state has last increased the gas tax, and adjusted for inflation, motorist pay only a penny, “(a)bout half as much as they did in 1927…when the state first levied a gas tax.”
Many think Christie has signaled he may be willing to change his tea party ways. Not only has he named Jamie Fox, a Democrat, to be his new transportation commissioner, he claimed “everything is on the table for discussion,” suggesting that he may be willing to humor the idea of a gas tax increase.
Of course, no one has heard from Fox since last month when he told a business-labor coalition in Atlantic City that a revenue enhancer, like a gas tax increase, was needed. And Christie, the legendary straight-talker, avoided commenting about the idea on his “Ask the Governor” radio show last week.
Keep in mind this is also the same guy who bragged (wrongly) about killing a 2012 gas tax proposal. Instead of taking steps to fix his out-of-control borrowing, Christie proudly proclaimed Democrats were “down on the ground. They’re sweating. They’re twitching. It’s ugly, ’cause I keep saying no.”
See, it’s all a game to Christie. Up until now, the only road he’s seemed focused on is a small, paved circle in Washington, D.C. called Pennsylvania Ave. There are 39,000 miles of roadway in New Jersey that need your leadership, Governor. Not all of us have the luxury of taking our private helicopters to catch our son’s ballgame._____________________________________________
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow him on Twitter @RobTornoe.