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Pumped up over gas prices

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Since today’s Star-Ledger had not one but two stories about gas prices, I feel now’s the time for me to point out that we are long overdue for an increase to the gas tax.

The first story tells you nothing you don’t know already: Gas, like everything else, isn’t getting cheap again, ever. The story includes a quote from an economist who said, “I don’t think we’re going back to the 1990s”; I think this is the only time I’ve heard those words said without joy. The state average apparently is $3.64 a gallon, but I don’t think I’ve paid less than $3.80 in a month. We also have a piece from Chris Christie’s call-in radio show, where he backpedaled from his previous appetite for self-service fuel stations. “I don’t see that changing,” he said, according to the story. I’m counting that as a gas prices story, because stations could offer cheaper prices without paying for round-the-clock attendants to perform the complicated fueling process that only New Jerseyans fine confounding.

Well, we already know that high gas prices are exclusively Barack Obama’s fault, even though prices were higher in the Bush II years, and even though gas here is much cheaper than elsewhere (when I was in Iceland earlier this year, for instance, prices were around $8 a gallon, if my math is correct, which it probably isn’t). So there’s no need to explore the why, but we still ought to consider raising the tax.

The gas tax, of course, funds transportation projects, which is why so many transportation projects are about advanced as a typical public school in Arkansas. It’s also why the repair jobs and Parkway lane additions — seemingly the only work that gets done around here — have to be paid for through borrowing, consequences and campaign promises be damned. Until we have a fund that can take care of itself through a higher gas tax, we’ll continue to see the kind of fiscal monkey business that was supposed to be outlawed by a 2008 voter referendum that outlawed borrowing without voter approval.

The long-term costs of this game of kicking this can ever further down the road? Infrastructure that remains as advanced as Sputnik 1 and future costs that the next generation will have an impossible time paying. There’s only so high we can raise taxes tolls on the Parkway and Turnpike; the fairer way would be to spread the damage to all drivers, who could then at least have reliable roads and bridges to drive on. While they can still afford gas, that is.

I’m even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.

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