Drivers Cheer Demise of Proposed NJ Gas Tax Hike

TRENTON (AP) -

Hundreds of thousands of people traveling Garden State roads cheered the legislature’s failure to raise the gasoline tax by 23 cents.

Several drivers said they are willing to pay a higher gas tax is if it means improved roads and bridges, but they sharply criticized the way state officials have handled the issue. They questioned why any increase wasn’t phased in over a few years instead of being pushed on residents all at once.

There also were questions about how the state would now pay for transportation projects. Gov. Chris Christie issued an executive order calling for state transportation officials to shut down projects by 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

The proposed hike fell through Thursday when the Democratic-led state Senate scrapped any votes on Christie’s plan to hike the gas tax while cutting the sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent over nearly two years.

It was part of a deal Christie had reached with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. The proposal had passed Tuesday in the Democrat-led Senate. The increase would have sent New Jersey’s current gas tax of 14.5 cents per gallon from second-lowest in the country behind Alaska to roughly equal that of Connecticut, which has the sixth-highest at 37.51 cents.

“With five kids between 4 and 13, we do a lot of driving for sports, ballet lessons, etc., and I’m driving an hour each way to get to work,” Doug Martin said Saturday morning while gassing up his family’s minivan in Freehold Township. “The cost of gas starts to add up and, with a tight family budget, you look to save where you can,” Martin said. “But since it seems like [a gas tax hike] won’t be happening any time soon, we figured we could — and would — make this trip.”

Other drivers said the state has mishandled the situation for years.

“If they had raised [the gas tax] gradually over the last few years, we could have gotten a lot of work done and it wouldn’t have seemed like such a stiff shot to the wallet,” said George Tucker, 44, of Jackson. “No one wants to pay more, obviously, but this is work that needs to be done. They don’t raise it for years, then they sock you with a big boost all at once. Stupid — that’s what it is.”