New Jersey drivers aren't driving enough so the government is... increasing the gas tax

Here’s one of those “local news stories” that may not look all that unusual at first glance, but likely tells us quite a bit about how the sausage is made in state and local governments. As most of you are no doubt aware, one of the immediate impacts of the national shutdowns that were mandated due to the novel coronavirus was a huge decrease in traffic on the roads. People were locked in their homes, working from home (if they still had jobs) and minimizing their trips out for errands. As a result, pollution levels dropped dramatically and there were reports of the skies being clearer in a matter of weeks. Good news, right? Particularly if you’re a liberal who opposes the use of fossil fuels, a lot less gas was being burned.

To celebrate this fact, the state of New Jersey has made a curious pronouncement. People aren’t buying enough gas so they’re going to increase the gasoline tax by nearly a dime. But… but… I thought burning less gas was a good thing? (CBS Philadelphia)

New Jersey drivers are about to be hit where it hurts — in their wallets. The State Treasury is increasing the gas tax by 9.3 cents a gallon…

The State Treasury says they have to increase the tax because people are driving less during the pandemic. They say consumption of gasoline declined by nearly 39% between March and May at the height of the state’s lockdown orders. The increase is going into effect on Oct. 1. The additional revenue will go toward paying for road construction projects.

Under state law, the transportation trust fund needs $2 billion in funding every year. The fund pays for road and bridge projects. The funding comes from the gas tax.

The government manages to come up with all sorts of excuses for raising taxes and those explanations generally involve some glorious greater cause that we should all celebrate. Taxes can encourage people to drive less or switch to more economical vehicles. It can help clean up the environment. (Which, as noted above, actually turned out to be true when the plague struck.)

New Jersey is a densely populated state, at least in the northern section. There are a lot of cars on the road in “normal” times. The air up in the Newark area is generally on the toxic side. The same applies further south when you get closer to Philadelphia. But as soon as people started driving a lot less, the reality became clear. The purpose of the gas tax isn’t noble at all. It’s just another way to siphon off more money for the state government’s coffers. And now that the flow of cash has slowed because of the supposedly admirable decrease in dirty, exhaust-spewing vehicles on the highways, the state is going to nail the few people who still have jobs or other reasons to travel with a significant bite out of their wallets to operate their vehicles.

In addition to regular gas, diesel will be hit with a similar 9.3 cents per gallon increase. So even as businesses are struggling, the price of goods and services will go up because it will cost more to keep the remaining trucks on the road rolling.

Great job, New Jersey. We’ve gotten a glimpse of the future, but clear skies and breathable air aren’t on your priority list, clearly.