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Corzine: Funding Crisis Renders Gas Tax Holiday Unaffordable

Fri May 09, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Tom Hester Jr.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) New Jersey cannot afford a gas tax break to check soaring gas prices, Gov. Jon S. Corzine said.

The Democratic governor said failing to collect the state’s 14.5 cent per gallon gas tax would risk projects designed to cut congestion and improve mass transit.

New Jersey is battling chronic budget deficits and will run out of money to pay for transportation improvements in 2011.

“I think there’s very little that one can do in the short-run,’’ Corzine said of combating increasing fuel prices. “I don’t think a holiday on gas tax collections is advisable given the financial condition of the state and our need to actually make investments that would cut down on congestion, improve mass transit and make the flow of traffic better.’’

The national average for a gallon of unleaded gas rose to a record $3.61 per gallon, according to AAA. In New Jersey, it found, the average price rose to $3.46 per gallon.

Many analysts expect gas prices to peak within the next month, with some predicting they could rise as high as $4 nationally. Many parts of the country, particularly in California and Hawaii, are already paying more than $4.

New Jersey’s 14.5-cent per gallon tax is the nation’s third lowest.

The average state gas tax is 23.6 cents per gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute, and New Jersey’s low levy has helped New Jerseyans enjoy gas prices that consistently rank among cheapest in the nation.

“One of the things we’ve done is not raise the gas tax,’’ said Corzine, who took office in January 2006.

Presidential candidates John McCain, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, have proposed suspending the federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Corzine also questioned how the federal government could do that and continue meeting budget needs.

Corzine earlier this year proposed significantly increasing Atlantic City Expressway, New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway tolls to cut state debt and pay for transportation work for 75 years, but that plan lacks legislative and public support.

Corzine has said he’s weighing alternatives, but hasn’t devised a new plan. He continued expressing hesitancy about increasing the gas tax to fund transportation work.

“You have to look at the level of gas prices at a realistic basis and say maybe this wouldn’t be a great time to implement it,’’ Corzine said.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, said he will advocate having the New Jersey Turnpike Authority hold public hearings on increasing tolls 45 percent to 50 percent to pay to widen the turnpike and parkway and repair bridges on them.

He said he’ll also push for another 50 percent toll increase in five years and adding tolls to Interstates 78 and 80 at the Pennsylvania border.

Republicans continued decrying any plan to increase tolls.

“Gov. Corzine didn’t get the message that New Jersey motorists do not want to pay more tolls at a time when gas prices and property taxes have made this state unaffordable for many families,’’ said Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth.

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