By Brenda Flanagan
Drivers across New Jersey lined up last night for a final fill-up at less than $2 a gallon to beat the statewide jump at the pump. The 23-cent gas tax increase drove prices up over $2.30 a gallon at Turnpike rest areas, fueling motorists’ dismay.
“Who likes that? No one wants to pay more for gas. I mean, one day I was paying $1.89. One day I go, it’s like $2.20. I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh! What happened?'” said Belleville motorist Jeanelly Hernandez.
“It’s going to cost me 23 cents more a gallon, which is going to come out of my pocket, 23 cents more a gallon, and I don’t think there’s any way to make it up,” said Michael Zwernemann, Teaneck motorist.
For commuters to New York, Jersey gas still makes sense.
“It’s not bad, compared to when you cross the river. It’s three and change,” said Fernando Perez, Hillside motorist.
Some business owners predicted disaster.
“I have to raise my prices. Probably lose customers,” said trucking company owner Eric Gonzalez.
Because he has to pay more to get around? “Absolutely. It’s bad enough we’re paying a lot of money on the tolls,” he said.
“This is going to be initially a drop in gasoline consumption by maybe 2 percent in the short run. In the long run, close to 3 percent or so, but funds hopefully are going to be used for transportation,” said Dean Siamack Shojai of William Paterson University.
Lawmakers passed the tax hike to replenish New Jersey’s flat broke Transportation Trust Fund. With borrowing, it could generate $32 billion over eight years for transportation projects and to finish the Hudson Bergen Light Rail. The tax hike may actually save motorists some money, says AAA.
“People in New Jersey pay $600 more than other parts of the country because we spend so much on repair and maintenance. So those costs are going to go down as roads are maintained better, our fuel efficiency is going to go up,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs at AAA Northeast.
“If that’s what they do, yes very much so. We need good roads to drive our cars on. The roads in Jersey are horrible,” said Hoboken motorist Michael Cricco.
Voters will decide whether all the extra gas tax revenue is spent only on transportation projects. That question’s on this November’s ballot. A no vote will not repeal the gas tax increase.
But that hasn’t stopped Sen. Kip Bateman from launching a petition drive to repeal the gas tax.
“If the word gets out there to vote no — send it back to the Legislature, say OK, this is not going to work, the 23 cents. Let’s look at other alternatives. How we can be more efficient?” he said.
Most motorists seemed resigned to the inevitable.
“Just got to get used to it. Complain or not, it’s not going to change a thing,” Perez said.