TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie on Monday ruled out increasing highway tolls or the gas tax to help solve the state's budget woes.He also said he won't approve placing tolls on roads that don't have them now because New Jerseyans are already overtaxed.
"I don't favor tolls on the roads that don't currently have them, and I do not favor and will not sign any increase for a gas tax," Christie said at a Statehouse news conference to announce Janet Rosenzweig as his pick to head the Department of Children and Families.
Christie said he would not heed recommendations from his transition team studying transportation, which last week suggested that he consider adding tolls on some roads, such as Interstates 195, 295, 287 and 80, to pay for upkeep. The report also recommended putting a gas tax increase to a public vote.
"I wanted to give my transition committees the latitude to recommend whatever they wanted to recommend," Christie said. "In the end, the decisions are made by me and the lieutenant governor. People are struggling. Now is not the time to raise taxes and fees."
At 14.5 cents per gallon, New Jersey's gas tax is among the lowest in the country, behind only Alaska, Georgia and Wyoming. However, property taxes in New Jersey are the country's highest, averaging $7,045 per household.
An increase in the gas tax could help fund transportation projects. A primary funding source for such projects, the Transportation Trust Fund, will run out of money for new projects in less than 18 months.
Christie said during the gubernatorial campaign that he supported a pay-as-you-go approach to transportation projects.
The new governor faces fiscal woes at every turn. He now estimates the state budget deficit for next year at $11 billion. That's the approximate shortfall if New Jersey were to fully fund all current programs, including making full payments to the state pension fund and for school aid, two areas of the budget that are chronically underfunded.
Christie also is projecting $1 billion-plus shortfall in the current budget.
Corzine tried unsuccessfully during his only term to tap funds from New Jersey's toll roads, first by suggesting the highways be sold or leased then by proposing massive toll increases to pay down billions in state debt.
Both plans were abandoned amid overwhelming opposition from commuters and lawmakers of both parties.
Smaller toll increases were quietly approved later in his term.
Tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway went up in December 2008, the first of a two-part increase. The second is slated for 2012.
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