New Jerseyans called their local legislators this week by the thousands, begging and pleading that a proposed 23 cent increase in the state’s gas tax be voted down.
The lawmakers, instead, voted in favor of the tax hike. The governor is expected to approve it.
While our local members of the state Senate and General Assembly from Ocean County did not vote to raise the gas tax, a majority of their colleagues did, doubtlessly setting into motion a chain of events that will make life more difficult for struggling families statewide, add to the crushing burden of New Jersey’s taxation and sky-high cost-of-living, and further accelerate the exodus of the middle class from the Garden State.
It is no secret that while the state’s population is relatively stable, those who produce tax revenue are leaving at a higher rate, year after year. A recent study showed that millennials are now outpacing their Baby Boomer parents as the largest group to exit New Jersey en masse. For some, it is out of frustration, as the business-unfriendly climate and astronomical cost of living has delayed their opportunity to achieve the American dream. For others, it is out of necessity – if they want to live in New Jersey, they must sacrifice medicine, food or child care to do so. Forget about the pipe dream of owning a home. The gas tax hike – and the resulting trickle-down of higher prices for goods and services – will accelerate the outbound traffic for those who claim membership in both of these groups.
Raising taxes on residents of the most-taxed state in America is shameful. It will rip apart families, prevent businesses from becoming successful and be the nail in the coffin – the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – for families living paycheck-to-paycheck without a cent – much less 23 of them per gallon – to spare. Shore residents, who have little access to public transportation and who must drive in order to work, will be hit hardest, since the commutes are longer and most highways in the region contain tolls. Moving north, for many, is not an option – homes there are priced too high to afford, and tax bills start in the five-figure range.
Adding insult to injury, the $2 billion tax hike does nothing to address why the state found itself in such a fiscal hole in the first place. The tax hike bill contained no mention of reform to the prevailing wage law – which inflates the cost of public projects to prescribed union-style wages even if contractors could complete jobs for far less – and didn’t even include measures that would combine the design and construction of projects into a single bid. After all, why lessen two sources of multi-million dollar contributors (professional firms and organized labor) in one fell swoop. The taxpayers are just an afterthought, if they merit a thought at all.
Even worse, the entire increase will only fund road and transit improvements for eight years, and then we will be back where we started.
As a business owner and a young person in our state, it is getting increasingly difficult to justify remaining here. While I’m lucky enough that I can, in theory, afford the gas tax hike, I know it will not end there. Property tax bills will eclipse an average of $10,000 soon, and it should not take anyone by surprise that a future governor may weaken the cap on property tax increases and move state obligations onto the municipalities and school districts, letting property taxpayers foot the bill.
Perhaps if there was a light at the end of the tunnel – something to point to as an example of how we’re digging ourselves out of this mess and reforming this disaster of a state – I would plan a life here. After collectively slapping the face of every overtaxed New Jerseyan, I’m seriously contemplating whether this, for me, might be that proverbial final nail in the coffin.