Five days after the state Legislature passed a measure to raise the gas tax by 23 cents a gallon to fund the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund, many Garden State residents are still angry about the size and scope of the increase.

Former Gov. Jim Florio, who pushed through a massive tax hike in 1990 a few months after being elected — prompting a taxpayer revolt that cost him re-election  — said he understands residents are not happy with such a big hike, but something had to be done.

“The Transportation Trust Fund is out of money, that means we can’t fix roads, that means we have to wait for a bridge to fall down before anyone gets serious about it. It means transit in New Jersey is not going to have service improvements. So you have to come up with an alternative. You can’t say I’m not in favor of anything,” Florio said Tuesday.

Florio's Republican predecessor, Tom Kean, who was the last governor to approve a gas tax hike, agrees that a dedicated funding source for the TTF had to be found.

“But I think it’s too high. I think they might have kept it under 20, maybe 19, 18, 17 cents. I don’t criticize people for doing something, they had to do something — but I think it was a little more than they had to do.”

Would a smaller gas tax hike been better?

Florio said "slowly but surely people will accommodate to it, and whether it should have been done in the past, that’s probably correct."

Kean said it’s understandable that a lot of Jersey residents are angry about the increase.

“People haven’t budgeted for this, people aren’t doing very well,” he said. “I don’t think people thought of how much of an impact this would have, how much money it would be.”

He pointed out part of the problem is many New Jerseyans don’t trust politicians in Trenton to do what they say they’re going to do.

“All you can do is hold whoever is going to be the new governor’s feet to the fire and you’ve got to try to do your very, very best to elect people to the Legislature who are going to be decent and honest and do what they’ll say they do,” he said. “Any time there’s new expenditures in government, new taxes, we’ve got to dedicate them and just make sure they’re spent properly and not misused.”

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