I first caught wind of this story by way of a tweet in my timeline which I can neither quote nor reproduce here for a PG-13 audience. Still, the subject matter was odd enough that I needed to go look it up elsewhere before putting any stock in it. It tuned out to be true, though. Chris Christie has signed his first tax increase in New Jersey since taking office and it’s a whopper. The gas tax in the Garden State is going up by 23 cents per gallon and it’s going to happen almost immediately. (NY Times)
Gov. Chris Christie, who has long resisted raising any taxes, has battled with Democratic leaders since early summer over raising New Jersey’s gas tax, reaching an impasse that brought hundreds of highway and transit projects to a standstill that lasted months.
But on Friday, a day after a fatal train crash in Hoboken focused attention on the troubled conditions of the state-run railroad, Mr. Christie, a Republican, finally gave way by accepting the first tax increase during his seven years in office. He said he had agreed to raise the gas tax by 23 cents a gallon to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which the state uses to pay for improvements to rails, roads and bridges.
Before we wheel out the tumbril to haul the Governor away it’s worth noting that he didn’t give in to this demand from the Democrats without getting something in exchange. As part of the deal, the state sales tax will be decreased by roughly one half of one percent over the next two years and (drum roll…) the state’s estate tax will be eliminated completely by 2018. Further, the increased gas tax is to be earmarked specifically for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund rather than simply being dumped into the general treasury, which is at least a cause directly related to the commodity being taxed.
Granted, none of these agreements are impervious to change so the voters should go into it with their eyes open. Getting the Democrats to agree to some tax cuts in the future doesn’t mean that those plans can’t be scrapped under a new administration after Christie leaves office. And money remains fungible, so taxpayer dollars going into the Transportation Trust Fund may simply free up cash for other activities. Still, half a loaf is better than none in this case.
Does this do any damage to Chris Christie? I can’t imagine how. He can’t run for another term for Governor (at least for four years) and he’s long since been driven out of the presidential race. If there’s anything in his immediate future on the political front it might be a cabinet appointment, but that depends entirely on Trump not only winning the election but remembering who is friends were once he’s sworn in. At that point Christie is impervious to angry, anti-tax increase advocates. And if there’s a future race on the horizon, Christie has a couple of good answers to accusations about this move. He did, after all, last seven years in one of the nation’s bluest states without a tax increase. The decay of the state’s transportation infrastructure (highlighted by the recent train crash) provides a lot of incentive for the tax hike. And the aforementioned tax cuts he negotiated in return can take a lot of sting out of it.
But for the drivers of New Jersey, nearly a quarter a gallon is a steep hike. If oil prices rebound in the near future (which they might with the recent OPEC decision to throttle back production) this may be the beginning of an ugly trend.