Yesterday an opinion piece appeared in another blog by yet another Morris County Young Republican. This young man told the story about how his finances are being put out of kilter by the additional 23 cents in taxation applied to each gallon of gasoline he purchases in New Jersey.
We question this, because unless he started doing his finances only very, very recently, the price-per-gallon of gasoline is lower today than it was 18 months ago, and well over a dollar less than it was in 2014. He suggests that he cannot balance his budget now, so how did he balance it then?
The writer, we understand, makes his living as an educator, a teacher. It is a noble profession and we are sure that he is deeply committed to his work. But it is a profession which relies on the public purse -- on the taxation of others, regardless of whether or not they use his services as an educator. And if they don't pay, they face punishment, sanctions, foreclosure, and so on. This is one kind of taxation.
The gas tax is another kind of taxation. The gas tax is a classic "user tax." This is a tax imposed on someone who chooses to access a service or facility. With a user tax, someone pays for something he or she wants and receives what he or she has paid for. So if you want to use New Jersey's roads and bridges, you pay for them through a tax on gasoline. Conservatives believe that user taxes represent a "fair exchange."
The writer attempts to cast doubt on the proposition that if the Transportation Trust Fund wasn't funded, "our roads would be dangerous, bridges would be falling, and people would be out of work." Well, he would have to take that up with the American Society of Civil Engineers -- professionals, like himself, and the experts in their field. They issued a report in 2016 and we've taken snapshots directly from it:
Now that is what the professionals -- the best in their field -- had to say. Some on the Alt-Right and the Far-Left say that we should doubt all professionals, the way they did during the French Revolution. But we note that the writer himself is a professional, and we doubt that he would want to see his degree rendered meaningless. If you erode respect for a hard science like engineering, how far behind can a more subjective matter, like education, be?
The writer continues: "Now we know that the gas tax and amendment was a ploy by Trenton politicians for their pet projects, such as the Bergen-Hudson Light Rail Extension and we also know half of New Jersey’s gas tax is going back to pay back old debt and not towards infrastructure."
Well, what we actually know is that this writer has been listening too much to the broadcasts coming from the Alt-Right. What the Alt-Right calls "the gas tax" is actually a Tax Reform bill numbered S-2411/A-12 that included five tax cuts totaling $1.4 billion in cuts and an increase in the tax on gasoline.
S-2411/A-12 was the result of more than two years of negotiations between Republicans and the majority Democrats who control both Chambers of the Legislature. Those negotiations were conducted under pressure, with the knowledge that in modern times no political party has controlled the Governor's office for more than eight years. The Republican negotiators understood that all that stood in the way of the Democrat majority imposing a 40-cent increase on the gas tax -- with NO tax cuts -- was Republican Governor Chris Christie. They understood that the clock was ticking.
Yes, a great many people use mass transit. Make it so shoddy and unstable that people stop using it and then imagine what all those hundreds of thousands of commuters returning to the roads in automobiles will do to your rush hour commute -- not to mention the wear and tear on those roads and bridges you don't want to pay for.
And yes, after 28 years of failing to adjust the gas tax for inflation and borrowing to make up the difference there is a whole lot of "old debt." The last time the gas tax produced enough revenue to pay for New Jersey's transportation needs was in 1990. Because of the debt that was allowed to accumulate, by 2015 the annual cost of that debt to taxpayers was $1.1 billion -- outstripping the $750 million revenue from the gas tax. That's what happens when you suspend the iron rules of economics and tell people that they can have something for nothing.
Perhaps this young professional is suggesting that New Jersey goes the way of Argentina? Ever try building a bridge without financing? Imagine those property tax increases -- up front -- every time you faced a capital project.
The writer has some very uncharitable things to say about Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce. He is very critical of her plan -- the Tax Reform bill numbered S-2411/A-12 that she voted for. Well, here is what her plan did:
- A tax cut on retirement income that means most New Jersey retirees will no longer pay state income tax. This tax cut is worth about $2,000 annually to the average retiree.
- Elimination of the Estate Tax. This protects family farms and small businesses from being forced to choose between paying taxes or closing and laying-off workers.
- Tax cut for veterans. Honorably discharged active duty, guard, and reserve veterans now get an additional $3,000 personal income tax deduction.
- Tax credit for low-income workers. Worth $100 annually to the average worker.
- Sales tax cut. Worth another $100 annually to the average consumer.
- Property tax relief. The legislation doubled the amount going to county and municipal governments to repair roads and bridges and so offset property tax increases.
The plan Assemblywoman DeCroce voted for, S-2411/A-12, the Tax Reform legislation -- the bill some people simply call "the gas tax" -- actually cut taxes by $1.4 billion.
Yes, it did raise the tax on gasoline by 23-cents a gallon. The Transportation Trust Fund was broke. Road and bridge projects funded by the TTF were frozen. That included all those county and municipal projects dependent on TTF funding. Work had stopped. Without funding from the TTF, local governments would have had to raise property taxes by an average of more than $500 a household just to make up for the lost aid to keep county and local roads safely maintained. And if county and local governments failed to repair roads and bridges and allowed people to use them anyway, the eventual cost in litigation to cover the injuries sustained as the result could vastly outstrip the costs to maintain them in the first place.
Yes... hard choices.
Finally, the writer -- this Young Republican -- praises the work of the fellow he would like to see replace Assemblywoman DeCroce. He's another incumbent Republican named Hank Lyon. He's a Morris County Freeholder.
Now Hank is a nice young man, but being elected to an all-Republican Freeholder Board doesn't actually provide you with the skills you need to get anything done in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. You have to be a good negotiator, not an arguer but a builder of trust and of relationships. You have to leave your comfort zone and learn to sell your colleagues from their point of view. You have to have humility.
That... or you can raise the resources to win control of both chambers of the Legislature and capture the Governor's office again, after eight years. Then you can be as cocksure and prideful as you want.
We know Assemblywoman DeCroce's plan. She voted for it. It passed. A Republican Governor signed it into law. So here is the challenge to Assembly candidate Hank Lyon: What is your plan?
We are looking for details here. Spreadsheet level details. Work it out and convince us. And spare us the Alt-Right sloganeering and the NJ 101.5 hashtags. This is a serious assignment. Show us what you have.
We will print it here, without edit. We await, at your convenience.