Will Anger Over NJ Gas Tax Translate to Lawmakers Getting the Boot?
A lot of New Jersey residents are angry about the 23 cent-a-gallon gas tax increase. But will that anger motivate voters to make a change in their Assembly and state Senate representatives?
No one is sure.
“People are angry about the gas tax increase because they see it every time they fill up their car, but the question is an extra 2, 3 or 4 dollars a week going make people have that same gut feeling a year from now when the legislature is up for re-election?” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University polling institute.
He pointed out “a lot of it will have to do with how the money is spent: Do people see improvements on the roads? Are those potholes being filled? Are those bridges being repaired that have been closed for a while?”
At the same time, Murray pointed out there will be a whole host of other issues people will be focused on in a year’s time.
“You can’t guarantee the anger people feel today is going to carry over a year from now,” he said.
Another factor, said Murray, is the price of gas in neighboring states.
“While New Jersey has always been seen as cheaper, we’ll still have gas prices that are seen as comparable to New York and Pennsylvania —with the added benefit that you don’t have to get out of your car to pump the gas,” he said.
Peter Woolley, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, believes the anger drivers feel about the gas tax hike will last for quite a while.
“They’re constantly going to be going to fill up their tank and think, you know, I paid $5 more than I used to pay,” he said.
Woolley noted another factor here is the gas tax is not fixed.
“The tax is really a minimum tax that can be adjusted upward if it doesn’t make its target, so this is going to be a piece of conversation New Jerseyans might have every year,” he said.
The people who approved the tax are the “Assembly members and senators, most of whom people don’t know and don’t hear about on a daily basis.”
He suggested this means “for the voter who might be angry and want a backlash, it’s going to be hard to lash out.”
Murray pointed out New Jersey’s big new gas tax hike is different than other big increases that came out of the blue, like Gov. Jim Florio's tax hikes back in 1990.
“People have been saying, and we’ve been seeing it in our polls, that that there is not enough being spent on maintaining our roads and bridges,” he said. “People don’t trust lawmakers to spend the money wisely. But the key difference between now and the Florio tax hikes is they understand that we do need to be spending more money to make sure that these things are taken care of.”