No sooner had Gov. Christie signed the 23 cent a gallon gas tax hike into law than there was a move to kill it. The hard fought compromise is meant to generate nearly $1.25 billion for the fund to fix corroding roads and bridges while cutting nearly $1.5 billion in taxes for seniors, vets and property owners. But now there’s a bill that would send it back to the drawing board. Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked its sponsor, State Sen. Kip Bateman, why he wants the gas tax repealed.
Williams: Thank you for being here Senator. Why do you want to repeal the gas tax increase?
Bateman: Because I think 23 cents is outrageous. I’ve literally heard from thousands of constituents saying that, that’s going to be over the top for them. The average driver it’s $150 a year for one car if you have several cars you multiply that out it’s just too much at one time. You know, New Jersey’s the most expensive state to live in the nation and this is just going to add to it. So, I’m putting the bill in today since Friday night we’ve gotten over 11,000 signatures on a petition to repeal the gas tax.
Williams: How should the Transportation Trust Fund be replenished if not for the gas tax? That’s got to get done.
Bateman: Well, no question about it and we have to fund our roads and bridges. One of the problems with the bill the way it was when the governor signed it is some of it’s going to Light Rail, you know, and we need to focus on the roads and the bridges that are in deterioration. So, we’re looking at other ways — Sen. Beck has a bill. There are other ways to purpose, there are other proposals to fund the Transportation Trust Fund without the 23 cent tax.
Williams: Like taxes on the wealthy?
Bateman: Well I think that, that is certainly a point. I mean the estate tax provision’s good but we don’t have to eliminate it totally. We can make it equal to the federal level which will get more money in. There are a number of proposals that we should really be focusing on putting together to try to lessen the blow.
Williams: Can you be specific?
Bateman: Well we’re working on it right now. I mean there’s been several proposals, Jennifer Beck had a proposal where we’d lower the cost of the health benefits, instead of the platinum plan we’d lower it there. We’d save I don’t know how much money there and I have some ideas which I’m speaking with Sen. Doherty about. We’re back in Trenton today for the first time since the governor signed the bill. So, I’m working on a proposals which will be coming forward.
Williams: Our gas prices right now — the second lowest in the nation — by Nov. 1 when the 23 cent increase goes into effect Jersey gas will still be cheaper than in the neighboring states, right?
Bateman: Not by much. I think we’ll be like the third behind I think Pennsylvania and New York.
Williams: Pennsylvania and New York.
Bateman: Pennsylvania, yeah and the problem is and we know it’s just a matter of time the gas prices are going to go up either way. With OPEC apparently they are coming to some terms to cut production. So, we know that it’s going to go up either way. What’s going to happen is when the gas price goes up and you add the 23 cents to it they’re going to look at Trenton and say ‘how could you do this to us? Is there a better way?’ I think there is a better way. I think that we need to go back to the drawing board. I think we need to discuss it further and you know let it go forward for the time being but then grandfather in and if we come up with a better proposal phase it in. It’s just — I think it’s too much to ask people to come up with 23 cents.
Williams: Let it go forward for the time being so that the roads and bridge crews can get back to work.
Bateman: Exactly, while we’re still debating you know whether there’s a better proposal because there’s no question there are some bridges that have to be done right now and while the season’s still able for construction, lets do it. But long term lets look for a different solution.
Williams: This was a tough compromise to come up with. Over a long period of time Gov. Christie said he didn’t want to sign any tax increase but he approved this single one because it was coupled with a phase out of the estate tax, as you said, and a reduction in sales tax. He said it was his only option…
Bateman: Well, I don’t agree with that, respectfully. But my bill only repeals the gas tax — part of it. I mean I still want to have the other tax breaks in the legislation. But he and the Senate president both said they’re not happy with this proposal and you know they’re doing it because they think that’s the only possibility but you know this is not —
Williams: Isn’t that the definition of a compromise, nobody is really happy with the whole thing?
Bateman: Well I can certainly tell you I’m not happy with this compromise and most people in New Jersey are not. The people I’ve heard from are irate and I think that we owe it to our constituents to go back and see if there’s another way of doing it.
Williams: You know, the business groups have said that this compromise law will help the business climate, will it?
Bateman: Well there’s no question funding for the Transportation Trust Fund will help the economy, no question about it. Getting these people back to work, but I don’t think this is the only proposal, I don’t think this is the only solution. Let’s just say 23 cents to me is outrageous
Williams: Handicap this for us. Will your proposal have enough support to get through the legislature and get signed by the governor?
Bateman: Well I’ll be honest with you it’s a long shot but I also think we owe it to our constituents to explore all possible ways of lowering the tax burden on the highest tax payers in the country.
Williams: Senator we look forward to seeing your counter proposals. Thanks for being with us.
Bateman: Thank you for having me.