TRENTON, NJ – State lawmakers approved a 23-cent per gallon increase in New Jersey’s gasoline tax on Friday.
The tax will more than double, from 14.5 to 37.5 cents per gallon, making it the seventh highest gasoline tax in the country.
The state Senate voted first, approving the plan 24-14; the Assembly voted in the afternoon, passing the bill by a vote of 44-27. Two senators were absent for the vote, and nine assemblymen.
The increase is expected to go into effect no later than Nov. 1; Gov. Chris Christie has said he will sign the measure, which will raise $16 billion over the next eight years to replenish the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which pays to repair the state state’s bridges, tunnels and roadways.
Christie shut down all repair work and pending projects in June as the fund was about to run out of money, putting more than 4,000 construction workers on unemployment.
State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16th) and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex) voted against the increase.
“This gas tax hike will have serious consequences,” Bateman said. “Small businesses will be forced out of state, the price of goods will go up and many local jobs will disappear. Undoubtedly, it will be the families in our communities who pay the price for a poor decision made miles away in Trenton.
“I voted no today because I believe it is our duty as public servants to vote with the needs and concerns of our constituents in mind,” he added. “Thousands spoke out against this tax hike. It’s a shame that that so many of my fellow legislators chose not to listen to the people they represent.”
Ciattarelli is also critical of the tax increase.
“It’s a bad deal for New Jersey,” Ciattarelli said. “We need to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund and we need to reform our tax code but not like this.
“It’s a 23-cent overnight increase which will not only increase the price of gas, but all goods and services that require transportation will increase significantly,” he added.
Ciattarelli also cited some “dirty little secrets” that are included in the bill’s fine print.
“There are revenue targets in the bill; if the gas tax doesn’t produce enough revenue, it can automatically increase,” he said. “There’s a strong likelihood that will happen. Efficiencies are increasing, cars get better gas mileage and each year, more people are driving natural gas and electric cars.”
Ciattarelli, who declared his candidacy for governor earlier this week, was also disturbed that there was no opportunity for public comment on the bills.
“I motioned that the bill be returned to committee for public hearings, but that was denied,” he said.
To ensure Christie’s support, the Democratic leadership in the Senate and Assembly agreed to:
· A small cut in the sales tax from 7 percent to 6.625 percent over the next two years;
· The estate tax will be phased out over the next 15 months replacing the current $675,000 threshold with a $2 million exclusion after Jan. 1, 2017 and eliminating the estate tax altogether as of Jan. 1, 2018.
· The Earned Income Tax Credit will be increased from 30 percent to 35 percent;
· Veterans will gain a $3,000 personal tax exemption;
Retirees will pay less in taxes on their retirement income, by increasing the New Jersey gross income tax exclusion on pension and retirement income over four years to $100,000 for joint filers, $75,000 for individuals and $50,000 for married/filing separately.
The last time New Jersey motorists experienced a hike in gas taxes was 1988.