EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles is opposed to a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic — whom Balles is running against this November — that would tax motorists for every mile they drive in their vehicles.
Balles, a Republican, speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Bennett Chevrolet car dealership on the Black Horse Pike, said the bill would hurt the sales of fuel-efficient vehicles in the state.
Balles said the state should continue using a gasoline tax to fund the state’s Transportation Trust Fund that pays for repairs to roadways.
“I implore him to kill this bill altogether instead of trying to tax us again and again and again,” Balles said.
The bill S-2531, which Whelan presented on Feb. 4 as the lone sponsor, would enact a tax of 0.83906 cents per mile traveled on a vehicle. The motorist would be charged when the vehicle was inspected or sold. The money would go to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.
Whelan issued a statement late Wednesday to clarify that the bill is only intended for electric or compressed natural gas vehicles which do not use gasoline or contribute to the trust fund. Whelan said he would amend the proposed bill which currently does not specify the type of vehicle affected by the proposed tax. Whelan said he expects to have a hearing in May for people to discuss and give input on the bill.
Legislative aide Michael Suleiman said the bill is not a finished product and the senator will consider modifications after the hearing is conducted.
“We have a bill that’s out there for discussion,” Whelan said. “If (Balles) wants to agree with it, it’s fine. If he wants to oppose it, it’s fine.”
But Balles said that the law still shouldn’t apply to these green vehicles since there are not enough of them yet to cause any significant dent in the trust fund. He added that the people who purchase these vehicles are still paying taxes on the natural gas or electricity for their vehicles and shouldn’t be burdened again.
Balles said additional revenue for the transportation fund is not needed. Though fuel-efficient cars are becoming more popular, he pointed to a study by the federal Energy Information Administration that projects gas usage will remain at similar levels through at least 2035.
“We’re addressing an issue that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Mark Hendricks, sales manager for the dealership, said the fuel efficient vehicles are the newer models — which are most profitable for the dealership to sell.
“Government should stay out of private businesses,” he said.
Balles also criticized the bill because it would tax state residents for miles they drive outside of New Jersey.
Mullica Township resident Gary Stein, who is challenging Whelan for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat, issued a statement Thursday imploring Whelan to hold a press conference to discuss the bill.
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