Corzine’s Open Mind on the Gas Tax is a Good Thing

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. “If we scrub this budget and we can’t close the budget holes and get the dollars for the Transportation Trust Fund, then we’ll review that … I vowed not to do it (raise the gas tax) at $3.00 a gallon, that’s for sure. When it’s down at the levels we’re in right now, I said I hadn’t taken it off the table.” Those were the words of Governor-elect Jon Corzine, spoken this past week at a conference hosted by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. Some will point to the fact that on October 11 in the heat of a gubernatorial campaign, Corzine stated, “There will be no gas tax hike in a Corzine administration.” Conventional wisdom says that the governor-to-be is flirting with the possibility of not keeping a campaign pledge. I say, “good.” At what point are we going to realize that all kinds of things are said in a campaign that have absolutely nothing to do with the reality and hard work of governing and everything to do with the crazy world of trying to get elected. Gas prices are lower than where they were in the second week of October. The much bigger fact is that the Transportation Trust Fund is in dire straits and running out of money fast. The Fund is critical to paying for essential highway construction and mass transit projects that keep our state safe and thriving economically. The Transportation Trust Fund has to be renewed by July 1. If not, the state stands to lose over $1 billion from the federal government in matching grants. What we are talking about are roads, bridges and critical mass transit improvements not moving forward. None of this stuff is sexy, but all of it is vitally important. The governor-elect knows this and is smart enough to realize that since the campaign is over, he has to be the state’s chief executive — the guy who has to make the really hard decisions, who can„t be trying to make everyone happy. (That was my biggest criticism of Jim McGreevey.) I’m thrilled that Jon Corzine may be rethinking his position on the gas tax. It’s not that I want us to be taxed anymore; it’s just that our current 10.5 cents per gallon gas tax is one of the lowest in the nation. Yet, our transportation needs are great. Jon Corzine understands that if he ducks this issue by not working with the legislature to provide a stable source of revenue to go directly into the Transportation Trust Fund, he is playing with fire. He also seems prepared to take the criticism leveled at him for his most recent comments on the gas tax. But that’s the absurdity of talking about campaign “promises” and the even greater absurdity of some candidates who sign “no tax increase pledges.” Things change. They evolve. And any public official that doesn„t evolve in the decision making process doesn„t deserve the opportunity to lead. We„re not talking about changing your position on abortion or the death penalty based on public opinion polls. Those questions are ones of morality than anything else. What we are talking about with the gas tax is a nuts and bolts hard core policy and operational issue involving transportation and economic development. Corzine is not saying he supports a gas tax, but only that he is open to it as a last resort. Any other position would be irresponsible. And speaking of economics, let„s stop kidding ourselves about the budget situation. This deficit in state government is massive, and the things that will have to be done to balance this budget in a responsible way won„t make many people happy. Again, as Corzine stated at this week„s business conference, “We„ve got some serious financial challenges ahead … and there are not the kinds of gimmicks and alternatives to turn to that have been done, unfortunately, for a very long period of time … we have just come to the end of the line.” Jon Corzine is not being an alarmist. He is just talking about the bottom line in a sobering fashion. The bottom line on the gas tax is that it is going to have to be raised, whether we like it or not. But the alternative of letting roads, bridges and transit systems decay and fall apart is simply unacceptable. I am encouraged by the governor-elect„s comments this week and I am hoping they reflect his sense that more and more he is going to have to tell a variety of audiences not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. It„s the job he ran for and the job he won. Anyone who tries to make a big deal about Corzine„s evolving position on the gas tax is engaging in partisan political gamesmanship that New Jersey can no longer afford to play. And that„s the bottom line.

Corzine’s Open Mind on the Gas Tax is a Good Thing