Could a gas tax hike hurt Christie if he seeks presidency?
Recent polls show a clear majority of New Jersey residents are not in favor of raising the gasoline tax to provide a stable funding source for the Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for all state road and bridge projects. Nevertheless, state officials, including Gov. Chris Christie, could soon announce a gas tax hike to ensure the TTF doesn't go bankrupt.
If that happens - as expected - Rider University Political Science Professor Ben Dworkin believes it could hurt Christie if he decides to seek the GOP nomination for president.
"His constituency at this point is the national Republican Party primary electorate, and these folks are extremely anti-tax," he said.
Dworkin said "those folks are less likely to support a presidential candidate who just raised a gas tax, in their mind there's always another option, cut government, do something else, find the waste in the system. It's s the people who are voting in republican primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Iowa that are going to be very upset."
If there is an agreement to increase the gas tax, Dworkin believes Christie may try to turn the tables, and spin a negative into a positive.
"He could do this by talking about how it's an example of leadership - in order to do it he's going to have to work with the democratic legislature," Dworkin said. "It is obviously another example of the governor's bipartisanship, his ability to work across the aisle and his ability to get things done."
He also said an increase in the gas tax won't hurt Senate President Steve Sweeney as much as Christie, because Sweeney is playing to a different audience as he gears up to run for governor.
"That democratic constituency is full of construction workers and unions that are looking for a stable source of funding," he said. "Many of these workers were unemployed during the Great Recession. If a stable funding source for the TTF is found, it will mean road and bridge projects can move forward which is important to many of Steve Sweeney's union supporters, these are the things that these guys are looking for."
The bottom line, Dworkin said is "it's much easier for Steve Sweeney to be an advocate for this than it is for Chris Christie."