Gas tax

Gov. Phil Murphy announced last week that the gas tax will be raised again in October.

ATLANTIC CITY — Khurran Baig, manager of Garden State Fuel on the Black Horse Pike, sighed as he thought about his business and the coming reality of another tax hike on gasoline next month in New Jersey.

“It really hurt us when they raised the gas tax the last time,” Baig said. “We used to be really busy because people leaving town would make sure to fill up before they got home to Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Now it doesn’t matter, because we are as expensive or more expensive as those states.”

In 2016, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill that raised the tax on gas by 23 cents per gallon to replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, a $2 billion-a-year fund for road, bridge and other transportation work.

On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the gas tax would be raised again, this time by 4.3 cents per gallon, because of a provision in the 2016 law that allows the rate to adjust without legislative approval if the revenue from gas does not meet the target to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund.

The 4-cent increase will bring the total tax to 41.4 cents per gallon when the increase goes into effect Oct. 1, making it the fifth-highest gas tax in the country.

Nearly all of the legislators representing Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties voted against the law in 2016, arguing in part the tax would be much more burdensome — with less return — for people living in South Jersey, who are less wealthy than people in North or Central New Jersey, according to state statistics.

Many of those legislators said Monday the extra increase is part of what they feared when the law was passed two years ago.

“You have to remember that we have farmers and people in the fishing industry down here who have machines that use a ton of gasoline,” said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. “We also drive much longer distances on average to go to work than people in (Central and North Jersey), so it really has a negative effect on us here.”

Van Drew added that while money in the Transportation Trust Fund has been used for projects in South Jersey, the majority is spent in Central and North Jersey.

State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, echoed the sentiment that the money from South Jersey normally ends up being spent in other parts of the state.

“I voted against the gas tax because continually raising the price of gas for mostly North Jersey road projects only makes it harder on our local working families to make ends meet,” Brown said. “It proves once again the difference for Atlantic County between death and the gas tax is at least you only die once.”

In fiscal 2018, just over a dozen projects were earmarked for funding as part of the state’s Transportation Capital Program in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties, state data show.

By contrast, Somerset County had 10 projects and Union County had seven projects earmarked.

Van Drew and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, who both voted against the 2016 law, said the Legislature should vote on any further increases to the gas tax.

“If we want to increase the cost of gas, the Legislature should have the courage to do that by voting,” Van Drew said. “The fact is that the trust wasn’t properly funded, which led to the major tax increase in 2016 … but raising it again without another vote is wrong.”

Mazzeo added a new vote would keep checks and balances in line.

“Believe me, I know from being a mayor that the Transportation Trust Fund money can be very helpful for funding certain projects,” he said. “This should have been raised by 1 or 2 cents at a time instead of the big increase last time and the automatic one this time.”

Murphy, for his part, said he doesn’t like raising any tax. But this was something they didn’t have control over.

“I’m frustrated by a lot of things we’ve inherited, in this case projections on fuel consumption, that were not realistic,” Murphy said. “You never like raising any tax, but this is the formula, and if we’re going to keep the funding at the level that we need to keep it at to fund the projects in the Transportation Trust Fund, then we have no choice.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Contact: 609-272-7260 JDeRosier@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressDeRosier

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