Neither of them said they necessarily supported an increase to the state gas tax. But both Assemblymen Gary Schaer, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, and Declan O'Scanlon, the committee's ranking Republican, said a gas tax hike alone wouldn't answer the need to raise $1.6 billion for annual maintenance and improvements to the state's highways, bridges and mass transportation.
The two legislators traded their views during a New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Roundtable in Monroe on May 16. "A five cent gas tax increase would generate $200 million," Schaer said. "In order to meet the need, you would have to increase the gas tax by 40 cents. I don't know if that is realistic. There needs to be a more holistic approach. We can't rely on just one tax, especially a tax that is so regressive."
The clock is ticking for solutions. The state's Transportation Trust Fund is set to run out of money by the end of this year.
"It's foolish to say anything is off the table," O'Scanlon said. "Simply tightening our belt isn't going to get us where we want to go. We have to have a discussion to see what mix of solutions we can come up with."
There is, of course, a major obstacle for a gas tax increase: Gov. Christie is on record saying he would veto it.
"When the governor says publicly he will not sign a gas tax bill, some of us get gun shy," Schaer said. "Legislators say, 'Why would I put my neck on the line for a proposal he says he will veto?'"
The State Budget
Meanwhile, the governor and Legislature have a June 30 deadline to adopt a balanced state budget that requires closing an $807 million deficit, and servicing about $132 billion in loans, Schaer said.
"We have not been answering the problems," he said. "We have been kicking the can down the road. The can has gotten very heavy and so difficult to kick."
He blasted the notion the state can grow its way out of its budget woes, calling the Christie Administration's projections of revenue growth unrealistic. But O'Scanlon shot back that major economic growth is exactly what New Jersey needs, and said that Democratic administrations in recent years have hindered economic growth. "You can't keep instituting additional costs and regulations on job creators and then scream that, 'The (Christie) administration is not growing jobs,'" O'Scanlon said.
A special thank you to AT&T for sponsoring the event.
For photos from the event, click here.