Why are some Sussex Republicans pushing a gas tax?
Last week a group called Forward NJ posted a list of the counties that support its plan to raise $2 billion a year in new taxes to fund transportation infrastructure in New Jersey. The group is a coalition of labor unions, corporate, and banking interests that believes new infrastructure projects will create jobs and enhance commerce. On its website, Forward NJ employs an odd pitchman to argue its side: Vice President Joe Biden.
In his presentation, Vice President Biden points to the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950's as an example of how Forward NJ intends to create jobs in 2016 and beyond. Not mentioned is who paid the taxes to fund those 1950's transportation projects. Back in the 1950's the wealthy shouldered more of the tax burden than they do today, with the richest one percent of Americans paying an income tax rate of over 90%.
Unfortunately for the hard pressed taxpayers of New Jersey who are already paying the highest property taxes in America, plus high sales and income taxes, Forward NJ is looking to raise the money from middle class consumers by more than doubling the state's tax on gasoline. The 15 to 20 cents increase would raise the tax to 34.5 cents a gallon.
Surprisingly, the list of supporters Forward NJ released last week (http://politickernj.com/2014/12/forward-nj-releases-list-of-county-mayoral-support/) included the "Sussex County Board of Freeholders" but not the Freeholder Boards of Democrat Counties like Camden and Gloucester. Why is Republican Sussex County on board but not Democrat county strongholds in South Jersey, whose residents would undoubtedly benefit more from the tax increase than would Sussex County taxpayers?
The short answer is that the Democrats are a lot smarter and understand the politics of raising an everyday tax like the gasoline tax on voters who are already overtaxed, in an economic environment that can be considered gray at best. They don't want their freeholders to have to face the voters so the Republicans of Sussex County have kindly shouldered that burden for them. The Democrats also need to make this tax hike "bi-partisan" and for that, they need Republican support to give them cover.
Watchdog found a contact with Forward NJ and it looks like Freeholder Director Rich Vohden committed the Sussex County Board of Freeholders to supporting the goals of Forward NJ without obtaining anything in writing from the other freeholders. Vohden's letter can be characterized as a call to lobby the Legislature for higher gasoline prices. He even copied Sussex County's legislators.
Of course, it's not as direct as that. Freeholder Director Vohden writes of the need to find a "long-term source of funding" and employs the language of something must be done. Of course, the thing that ultimately must be done is a tax increase on something Sussex County residents use every day. Middle class taxpayers are going bear the burden of this thing that must be done.
The Freeholder Director also claims that this "long-term source of revenue" (read: TAX INCREASE) will "mitigate the reliance on the collection of local property taxes." Sure. We heard that one before. That was what the State Income Tax was supposed to do. The result was that New Jersey has both a high income tax and the highest property taxes in America. Now it's the gasoline tax!
Freeholder Director Vohden should not have committed the all-Republican Sussex County Freeholder Board without first gaining written agreement that any new tax on gasoline would be accompanied by a tax reduction or property tax relief for Sussex County taxpayers. Instead, he and the Board have been left with no cards to play.
In case you need reminding, here are some of the more memorable lines from the pitchman for Forward NJ: