By Briana Vannozzi
Lawmakers seemed to be making headway on the transportation crisis when a constitutional amendment dedicating gas tax revenues unanimously passed both houses last month. Problem is, when you talk to residents, most have never heard of it.
“I don’t really pay attention, I’m not the type of person that really cares about it. I just pay it and go. It’s going to happen. We got to pay it anyway,” said Newark resident Antwon Brinson.
The resolution will ask voters if all gas tax money should be reserved for the Transportation Trust Fund. Right now all but about $40 million gets dedicated. The latest Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll found the issue isn’t much more than a blip on New Jersey residents’ radar.
“Forty-six percent say they’ve heard absolutely nothing about this and that’s surprising because it has been a topic of debate in New Jersey for the last couple of years,” said Dan Cassino, political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
New Jerseyans largely oppose raising the gas tax, and the constitutional amendment is said to be the framework for increasing it. That said, Professor Cassino says those polled would support the amendment, despite never having heard of it.
“A plurality of people, 49 percent, say they’d support the amendment. However, that number is really fluid because most people don’t know anything about this yet,” Cassino said.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto sponsored the bill and told NJTV News today, “I’m not worried about polling from January. This is a conversation that has just begun. It’s safe to say that as November nears, there will be lots of activity from myself and advocates highlighting the need to approve this referendum.”
“It would depend if they could prove it’s going to help the roads and prove that it’s actually going to make a difference and then also what amount they’re going to raise it,” said Bloomfield resident Robert Morales.
Which is why Lewis believes with more education, voters will support the amendment and possibly the gas tax. According to the Federal Highway Administration, New Jersey has just over 2,300 structurally deficient or obsolete bridges in the state. And they’re getting worse faster than they’re being fixed.
“People really want to make sure the money they put into the roads gets into the roads. People see how bad they are,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs for AAA Northeast.
“If we fully dedicate the gas tax tomorrow to the TTF it’s not going to give us really any more money than we’re getting today because that money is mostly getting into the TTF,” Lewis said.
And with gas prices at record lows, advocates see now as the best time to move.
“Well look that doesn’t mean gas isn’t going to be affordable. I think one of the things we need to look at is making an increase to the gas tax that is going to be reasonable that people are going to be able to afford,” said Lewis.
So lawmakers will have the daunting task of making a tax sound appealing to residents.