New Jersey lawmakers consider hike in gas tax to help fund transportation

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Toni Yates reports the increase would help replenish the state's transportation fund. (WABC)

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a hike in the gas tax as a way to make up for an expected shortfall in the state's transportation trust fund.

The Assembly Transportation Committee met in Camden Thursday for its third hearing on the funding crisis.

The panel's chairman, John Wisniewski, has introduced a bill that would hike taxes on petroleum products, saying it could cost drivers up to 80 cents a day, or close to $300 a year.

Many lawmakers say a hike in the gas tax that drivers pay, and the tax that gas stations pay for fuel must be increased because the fund which uses the money for road and bridge repair is deep in debt.

"We've borrowed enough money that has consumed every penny, not just for today, but for the next 30 years," said Wisniewski.

Wisniewski says politicians have avoided a gas tax increase for decades because it is so unpopular. But at Thursday's hearing, he said the money would benefit drivers.

"The question is, do they want to pay for vehicle repairs and lost time, or is it better to modify the tax?," he said.

Gas station owners cite the increased cost they would face. "For every 10 cents the tax increases, that will cost my members $900 every time the tanker pulls in," said Sal Risalvato of the New Jersey Gasoline Association.

The move would be very unpopular among drivers paying $2.59 a gallon for regular, which would be nearly $3 with the new tax.

"There's a cost to doing nothing." said Wisniewski. "There should be no illusion that those people who are hearing about this or talking about it who say the legislature ought not do a thing means that we're imposing costs on drivers who drive over roads that results in damage to their vehicles. And that cost is paid by the owner of the vehicle, not by anybody else."

The transportation fund, which pays for road and bridge repair projects, is paid for through gas taxes, which are among the lowest in the nation.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said he's open to all options, but has generally opposed raising the gas tax.

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