On Friday, the SaveJersey blog featured a story by NJ 101.5's Bill Spadea. Bill has been trying to justify his position against funding the TTF for weeks now. Aside from the ratings boost he's received, he is having an understandably tough time wrapping his intellect around the indefensible position that a user's tax is poor economic policy.
The Sussex County Watchdog put out a concise explanation of the way the user's tax that funds the TTF works:
The tax on gasoline is the principal way New Jersey funds road and bridge maintenance and repair. It is a user tax charged to those who actually use the state's roads and bridges -- 30 percent of whom live outside New Jersey.
The user tax on gasoline that New Jersey charges drivers who use the state's roads and bridges hasn't been raised since 1988. That means that the price charged drivers in New Jersey hasn't even kept up with inflation. If it was adjusted for inflation, the 14 1/2 cents still charged today would be 29 cents.
This represents a huge windfall for out-of-state drivers -- who in effect are being subsidized by New Jersey taxpayers.
Instead of raising its tax on gasoline in line with the inflation over the last 28 years, New Jersey put its road and bridge maintenance and repairs on a credit card -- using massive debt to fund its transportation infrastructure, while states like Pennsylvania raised their user tax on gasoline to 50 cents or more. Because New Jersey used so much debt, the first 10 1/2 cents of any gasoline tax increase will be needed just to pay the interest on that debt.
... If the TTF is broke and the current 14 1/2 cents insufficient to even pay the interest on the debt (it would take a tax of 25 cents a gallon just to do that), then how will road and bridge maintenance and repair be paid for?
Bill Spadea is looking for a way show that the transportation infrastructure can still be funded while justifying his opposition to the user's tax on gasoline. So he's come up with a list of things to cut and he published the list on SaveJersey, and the blog distributed it to its email list.
Spadea's SaveJersey column begins with an emotional tribute to "a few brave souls left in Trenton on both sides of the aisle." Now nobody is going to disagree with him about Senator Mike Doherty being a good conservative and a brave soul, but Democrat Ray "Lord of Ass" Lesniak? The king of pay to play (and play to play)? Really? Spadea couldn't find anyone braver than his lordship?
Then Spadea really goes head over heels effusive with Senator Jennifer Beck, quote, unquote, "the newest champion of the taxpayer."
Well, we have some bad news for him. Over $100 million of the cuts Spadea plans to use to fund the TTF will come from killing off open space and farmland preservation in New Jersey. Spadea even wants to kill the property tax relief that rural towns get, the open space funds in lieu of taxes, that help keep property taxes down.
The problem for Spadea is that his "brave souls" and his "newest champion" all voted for these open space funds just a few weeks ago. That's right -- on June 27, 2016 -- Senators Doherty, Lesniak, and Beck all voted yes on S-2456. They blew a $100 million hole in his TTF funding plan.
Don't get us wrong. We're not complaining. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in America and open space and farms are a good thing and something people consistently support. Apparently, the corporate management at NJ 101.5 doesn't think so, but most voters do. But this incident does illustrate the problems inherent with the "drive-by-budgeting" practiced by talk radio hosts like Bill Spadea. Economic policy isn't something to be crammed between five minute blocks of salesmen selling vinyl siding, used cars, and suppositories.