Raising tolls is not the answer to New Jersey’s financial problems

Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to dramatically raise tolls to help repay New Jersey’s debt is just very poor public policy. Raising tolls on the more efficient toll roads will only encourage people to use less efficient back roads and alternate roads.

A driver can reach almost any point in the state using free roads. From Manalapan I can get to Atlantic City with no tolls going and just one toll coming back; Delaware by avoiding the turnpike and taking Interstate 95 through Pennsylvania; New York in a variety of ways. However, the current savings in tolls doesn’t justify the extra time and gas. Raising the tolls high enough, though, might make these alternative routes very attractive.

At a time when energy conservation is imperative, why come up with a plan that encourages waste? Why push drivers into taking longer routes at less fuel-efficient speeds?

Think, too, of the congestion that bypassing the toll roads will cause in those communities lying on the alternate routes.

Then, of course, there are the ethical questions involved in Gov. Corzine’s plan. If the revenues are going to help all New Jerseyans, why should the burden fall only on drivers who use toll roads? And how cynical is it to try to sell a bad plan by stating that out-of-state drivers will bear a big part of the expense? Why should they have to pay for our problems? How good could the idea be if this is how you have to sell it?

The governor is trying to put all the pain on the smallest number of New Jersey residents to have the fewest number of voters angry with him come election time. This is the kind of thinking that has gotten us in the mess we’re in.

Sometimes everyone needs to sacrifice and feel pain. The sales and income taxes are already too high and are driving people out of the state. You can’t raise those. It seems to me that the most obvious and fairest plan would be to simply raise the state gas tax and dedicate that increase to balancing the budget and/or paying down debt.

New Jersey’s gas tax is 14.5 cents per gallon; New York’s is 30.3 cents and Pennsylvania’s is 26.7 cents. A 10- or 15-cents-agallon increase would be reasonable and fair. It wouldn’t chase people away. We’ve watched regular gasoline rise from $1.25 a gallon to close to $3 a gallon.

We’ve suffered but we’ve survived. Another 10 or 15 cents, while painful, makes sense, and, if it encourages a bit of conservation, might actually help to bring the cost of gasoline down.

Furthermore, more expensive gasoline might actually push people to use the more efficient toll roads, increasing their usage and bringing in more revenue. No one wants a tax increase, but if we must have one, let it be one that makes sense and does some good.

Michael Feldman