BORDENTOWN — Gov. Chris Christie continues to push for a publicly unpopular gas tax hike, saying Tuesday that out-of-state drivers would help defray the cost of funding New Jersey's road projects.

Almost two months after a deal was supposed to be hammered out to replenish the state's dried-up Transportation Trust Fund, lawmakers are still haggling over a deal that hinges on raising the gas tax — currently one of the lowest in the nation.

“I signed an executive order ... that now allows me to take money out of the general fund to pay for emergency road projects, but I don’t want to be doing this stuff,” Christie during a town hall meeting in Bordentown on Tuesday.

David Matthau, Townsquare Media
David Matthau, Townsquare Media

Christie has agreed to support an increase in the gas tax if it’s coupled with a decrease in some other tax.

At the end of June he backed a measure passed by the state Assembly that would have increased the gas tax 23 cents a gallon, while decreasing the state sales tax from 7 to 6 percent, but the state Senate never voted on the proposal because some Democratic leaders complained it would cost the state too much money in lost revenue.

Christie said New Jersey has the second-lowest gas tax in America because it hasn’t been raised in 27 years.

“Yet we’ve continued to spend anywhere, in state money alone, between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion a year in infrastructure improvements, and that gets matched dollar for dollar by the federal government, so it’s anywhere from $2.4 billion to $3.2 billion a year we’re spending on highways, roads, bridges and our mass transit system."

So if I’m going to increase a tax I might as well increase a tax that a third of which is being paid for by people who don’t live here...

In other words, something’s gotta give.

“There’s no more rabbits to pull out of a hat, OK,” he said. “Twenty-seven years without increasing a tax that is the only tax that goes toward infrastructure has led to two things: more borrowing, and secondly it’s led to us taking more money out of the general fund."

He said the idea of a gas tax increase coupled with a decrease in some other tax makes sense because “a third of the gas tax is paid by out-of-staters."

"Because of where our state is located, you have a lot of people coming into this state who are commuting or traveling.”

"So if I’m going to increase a tax I might as well increase a tax that a third of which is being paid for by people who don’t live here, but who are utilizing our roads, utilizing our bridges.”

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Keeping gas tax earmarked 

Christie then reminded the crowd that voters will decide this November whether any gas tax increase should be constitutionally dedicated to transportation.

“Please vote yes because that means that any increase in the gas tax can only be spent on roads, bridges and mass transit,” he said. “Vote yes on that because otherwise that increase will be able to be spent on anything, and if you leave an unguarded pot of money in Trenton — bad move everybody. Bad move.”

Christie reiterated he’s the first New Jersey governor in 27 years to say he’d increase the gas tax, but if that happens, “then we’ve got to give you a decrease someplace else so that the whole bite doesn’t come out of your pocket. Then at least there’s some representation of fairness to all of you.”

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