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Op-Ed: Is ‘Tax Fairness’ Unfair to Everyone Who Rides NJ’s Roads?

After years of neglect, it’s time for NJ to face its ‘transportation funding crisis’

cathleen lewis

“Tax Fairness” at first glance seems like a simple concept that everyone can get behind, yet it seems to be what stands between New Jerseyans and safe roads.

In its simplest form, tax fairness should be about making sure that those that who benefit from a government service are the ones who pay for that service. By design, the Transportation Trust Fund embodies this concept by providing the benefit of safer and better roads for our citizens, which is paid for in a fair and practical way.

Our roads are an important part of New Jerseyans’ daily lives, and their condition determines whether we are stuck in traffic and miss our kid's soccer game or if we hit a pothole and end up at a repair shop. Our roads are also vital connections for businesses here in New Jersey, across the Eastern seaboard, as well as the country. It’s vital that we capture revenue from users of our roadways to help us reinvest in the maintenance and expansion of our transportation infrastructure system.

Consequently, AAA supports an increase to the gas tax, because we believe that the price of dealing with broken and unsafe roadways is far more costly than increasing this tax. Certainly the TTF needs a new sustainable, stable funding source, especially since it’s been nearly 30 years since the per-gallon levy has been adjusted. In order to avoid difficult and unpopular choices to meet resource demands, Trenton has borrowed against the revenue with impunity for decades. Today, all existing revenue has been leveraged and 100 percent of the incoming revenue from the gas tax will be used to pay down debt.

The increase currently being debated at the State House is significant but it comes after years of putting off necessary small adjustments in favor of borrowing. Our state is in dire need of investment, and cannot afford to go deeper into debt. The costs of doing nothing are far too steep. We’ve seen an increasing number of crashes and pileups caused by road debris or potholes. The most recent American Society of Civil Engineers study put the cost of time wasted, maintenance and repair due to road conditions at $1,951 for New Jerseyans. By way of comparison, the additional gas tax will cost the average New Jersey motorist about $300 a year and will result in safer and better roadways.

We support the plan because in AAA’s bi-annual survey, we saw motorists’ discontent over the state of our roadways, and the neglect of its upkeep:

  • 45 percent of those polled say their commute has gotten worse. Since 2011, the “worse” rankings have risen from 33 percent to an all-time high of 45 percent in 2015.

  • 31 percent rank local roadways as poor, up from 23 percent in 2014 and nearly doubled since 2003; 40 percent rate local roadways as fair.

  • Major state and county roads did not fare much better with 38 percent rating them as fair and 20 percent as poor, a 5-point jump from 2 years ago.

There is no easy solution, and there is no popular solution. But after years of neglect, the time has come for the state to face its burgeoning transportation funding crisis. Accordingly, AAA supports the legislature's long-overdue plan which will ensure a stable, sustainable, dedicated funding source for the TTF as it will ultimately result in better and safer roadways for all New Jersey motorists.

Cathleen Lewis is Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for AAA northeast, New Jersey division.

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