Will NJ’s New Transportation Boss Push for Gas Tax?
Did Gov. Chris Christie pick Jamie Fox to lead the New Jersey Department of Transportation because he wants to push through a gas tax?
Since becoming governor, Christie has refused to consider increasing the gas tax as a way to fund the almost bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), the pot of money the state uses for road and bridge projects.
But during Townsquare Media's monthly "Ask the Governor" show on Oct. 15, Christie didn't say no. “Everything is on the table for discussion, but I’m unwilling at this point in October to commit to anything on the air when I’m really going to be negotiating with members of the Legislature, both the Democratic and Republican leadership,” Christie said. “What I’ve always said is that I’m willing to discuss everything with the Legislature, but there has to be give and take, so we’ll see how it goes.”
On Sept. 18, Christie named Democrat Jamie Fox as his new transportation commissioner, and during his first public appearance before a business-labor coalition in Atlantic City on Oct. 17, Fox said a revenue enhancer is necessary to keep the TTF afloat.
So what's really going on here?
"Christie and Fox look like the odd couple, but Christie's strength is building coalitions around specific issues. At some level, choosing Jamie Fox means that the gas tax or some other means of raising taxes or revenues is being considered," said Peter Woolley, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU).
The question really becomes, according to Woolley, whether distancing or embracing a TTF solution will keep his presidential aspirations alive.
Woolly said if Christie runs for the Republican nomination for president after raising the gas tax, he would be handing his opponents a very salient issue to criticize him on.
"Choosing Jamie Fox allows Christie to put this issue a little more squarely in front of the public, without it being him putting it in front of the public," Woolley said. "He has reached across the aisle, in effect, to get somebody who is respected and knowledgeable to talk about this issue and bring it to the public's attention, and to build some kind of coalition around a solution. Depending on what the solution is, Christie will either be able to claim credit for it or claim that he deserves no credit for it - depending on which suits him better."
Woolley also said it's possible Jamie Fox will build a coalition to pass a gas tax increase, and Christie will veto it, but then it's also possible the Legislature might override that veto.
"It's a very difficult issue for Christie because no one wants a gas tax increase, but there are serious transportation infrastructure issues that have to be addressed, and a dedicated funding source for the TTF must be found soon," Woolley said.