Folks, can we talk?
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released last week showed that 65 percent of New Jersey voters oppose raising the state's gas tax.
When voters were told that the state's 14.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax is the third-lowest in the nation and was last increased in 1988, the percentage of people opposing an increase did drop to 60 percent - but that's still significant opposition.
The tax is supposed to fund road and bridge improvements through the Transportation Trust Fund, but the $540 million a year generated by the gas tax doesn't fund a dime of new work on roads and bridges - it all goes to pay the fund's debt service.
So how does road work get funded? By borrowing yet more money. Gov. Chris Christie doesn't mention it when he is trumpeting his credentials as a fiscal conservative, but during his time in office he has borrowed $5.6 billion for the fund, according to NJSpotlight.
Furthermore, for the third year in a row, he is using toll revenue from the New Jersey Turnpike to balance his budget instead of using it, as intended, for road improvements, this year siphoning off $324 million.
And consider this:
According to Carl Golden, a senior contributing analyst at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College, raising the gas tax by an additional 10 cents a gallon would generate almost another $400 million a year. Do you know what that would cost a motorist who drives 1,000 miles a month in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon?
Five dollars a month, says Golden.
Are you changing your mind just a little bit now about a gas-tax increase?
You should be.
Christie's $5.6 billion in borrowing for the Transportation Trust Fund will cost you more than $1.1 billion in interest payments in the next budget, according to NJSpotlight.
Sure, New Jersey taxes are already too high, and you don't want yours raised. But you also don't want your elected officials to keep borrowing money, do you? That $1.1 billion in interest on transportation-infrastructure debt will be paid entirely by New Jersey residents - and ends up increasing municipal, school and county property taxes.
At least with a gas-tax increase, a significant portion of it will be paid by drivers from other states passing through New Jersey.
And there is no doubt that New Jersey's deficient roads and bridges need work - work that will make them safer. Not to mention the jobs that work will create.
Sure, the phrase "tax and spend" is used to ridicule Democrats (and, sometimes, editorial writers). But "borrow and spend" is even worse.
New Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Bergen, Hudson, has said he would consider an increase in the gas tax. That's an opening of sorts.
Christie, of course, would never sign such an increase. But voters - fiscally conservative voters - ought to be asking, "Why not?"