With gas prices below $2 a gallon in some parts of the state, policymakers are considering raising the gas tax. Legislators say the additional revenue would go to fund much-needed bridge and road repairs in the state. However, the public isn’t buying it. The most recent statewide survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind finds respondents oppose the idea of additional taxes by a more than two-to-one margin, with many (31%) saying their opposition is driven by skepticism that the funds would be used as intended, and the belief that residents are already overburdened by taxes (45%).
Currently, 68 percent say they oppose raising the gas tax with 28 percent in favor. Opposition is universal, with partisanship no match for the widespread revulsion residents feel toward paying more taxes.
Opposition is down a bit from close to a year ago. In March 2014, 72 percent of respondents said that despite the need for road and bridge projects, taxes should not be raised on gasoline to pay for road improvements. PublicMind asked a similar question about a gas tax increase in both 2010 and 2006. In 2010, 61 percent of registered voters opposed a tax hike and in 2006 opposition came in at 74 percent.
“New Jersey residents see the need for road repairs, but they want policymakers to find the revenue somewhere else, rather than their overtaxed wallets,” said Krista Jenkins, professor of political science and director of PublicMind.
Even those who don’t spend much time in their car each day, and who would feel fewer effects of an increase, reject paying more for road and bridge repairs. Over half of these people (63%) say no to more taxes. Although more time in the car contributes to more opposition, majorities of all groups are opposed to additional taxes (73% of those who drive 10-30 miles per day and 67% of those who drive 31 or more miles per day).
Proponents of a gas tax increase have pointed out that New Jersey enjoys a rate that’s below the national average. Therefore, a modest increase would still allow residents to enjoy cheaper gas while contributing to the greater good in road and bridge construction projects. About four-in-ten can correctly identify the New Jersey rate as below the national average (44%), with an equal number who are reportedly unsure (44%). The remainder believe incorrectly that New Jersey motorists pay more (12%).
Knowing that New Jerseyans don’t pay as much as their neighbors in other states doesn’t, however, predispose someone to support a tax hike. People who know N.J. residents have it good are less likely to oppose the gas tax as compared with those who are unsure or who believe Garden Staters already pay more than others. However, a clear majority in all categories say no to more taxes at the pump.
“Infrastructure improvements are likely to become a pressing item on the state’s legislative agenda. Policymakers will have to look elsewhere for the money or risk alienating a majority of New Jersey residents,” said Jenkins.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 803 New Jersey residents was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from January 5 through January 11. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percentage points.