Raising the gas tax by 23 cents a gallon is not the only way to pay for road and bridge repairs. So says a Republican senator whose plan would generate money for the Transportation Trust Fund by merging agencies, cutting employee health benefits and raising fines for distracted driving. NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz was in Freehold and spoke with Sen. Jennifer Beck.
Cruz: Thanks Mary Alice. Sen. Beck is with us. Thanks for taking the time. You are on sort of an anti-Transportation Trust Fund/gas tax tour.
Beck: I am in favor of renewing the Transportation Trust Fund, make no mistake. I have my own plan that I’ve put forward that requires no increase in the gas tax. But to raise a billion dollars in new taxes on 7 million licensed New Jersey drivers is unconscionable. It’s the most regressive form of taxation we have. Many people must drive to work. They have no other option. And I am adamantly opposed.
Cruz: So your plan calls for, among other things health plan givebacks from state union employees, consolidation of the transportation related departments and 3 percent annual revenue increases for the state, yes?
Beck: That’s sort of the general outline of it. Look, we know that the federal government is going to penalize the state of New Jersey in 2022 under the Affordable Care Act for having too generous of health plans. We have to reform it. There’s no questions. We’ve got to reform it. That’s huge savings for us.
Cruz: Do you think this 3 percent annual growth is optimistic? I mean the last 10 years the average growth has been about 1 percent if you account for the drop in 2009.
Beck: Under this governor in the last seven years, it’s been 3.15 percent growth so you’re adding in the year that we had the economic recession but no it’s been 3.15. I think that’s reasonable. The Office of Legislative Services reviewed all my numbers to make sure they were factual and on a sound footing. Look, at the end of the day a billion dollars in new taxes, 23 cents a gallon is not what we need in the state of New Jersey. It’ll be a devastating blow for our economy.
Cruz: You’re also going to rely on some borrowing, yes: $5 billion or so?
Beck: Yes, and the Sarlo/Oroho plan relies on borrowing as well. Look, the place we should be is we should be paying for it out of the general fund. That’s the ideal world. The reality is that we’re going to have to build up to that and that’s what my plan does.
Cruz: You said it takes fortitude while you were talking to the group here and fortitude has kind of been in short supply in Trenton. Where are the votes coming from for this plan?
Beck: For my plan?
Beck: Well, you know, I’ve put it forward in December. I’ve been very vocal about thinking that people should be entertaining this as an option and I think it’s easier for the Democrats in Trenton just to raise taxes like they always do. So, you know, this is not the easy path. It requires fiscal discipline. It absolutely requires fortitude and people have to make some changes, but you can do it. You can fund the Transportation Trust Fund without a new gas tax.
Cruz: So is part of these rallies here a way for you to make a point with your colleagues in the Legislature that there is support for this alternative plan?
Beck: This rally is about making it clear that the people of the state of New Jersey are opposed to a billion dollar, 23-cent gas tax increase. In case anyone wasn’t sure, you should know today that they are absolutely opposed and that you’re really out of touch if you think people are OK with that.
Cruz: All right, we’re going to leave it there. Sen. Jen Beck is with us. Thanks very much for taking the time.
Beck: Of course. Thank you.