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EDITORIAL: We support gas tax as long as it supports roads

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When the state Chamber of Commerce is supporting the idea of a tax hike, you know it must be a worthwhile cause.

OK, maybe “supporting” is a bit strong for the group's position on a gas tax increase, but the fact that it's willing to entertain the idea speaks volumes about the shoddy state of New Jersey's transportation infrastructure.

Now that Ray Lesniak has waded into the unleaded fray, we expect the issue will at least get some more attention, if not the legislative drive to become law. Lesniak's proposal is modest: another 15 cents a gallon, phased in over the course of three years. At the end of three years, that translates into a bit more than an extra $2 at each fill up at the pump, but combined with a federal lobbying effort, it could give the woebegone Transportation Trust Fund the bank it needs to pay for highway, bridge and rail projects. It's also smaller than his original plan — 24 cents over the course of four years.

There's a reason this tax hasn't been touched in more than 20 years — political cowardice. As a result, the only way major work gets done is by unsustainable borrowing. Chris Christie is just the latest in a line of governors to insist he won't entertain thoughts of increasing the tax — and his administration is no friend to drivers, after Bridgegate and the Tesla mess.

The business case for such an increase is a no-brainer. You can't attract companies, ship goods or have a stable workforce if your rail system is as good as Taggart Transcontinental's at the end of “Atlas Shrugged” or if your highways are as cratered as the moon. As to the cost, New Jersey will still have one of the lightest gas prices in the nation, thanks to the presence of nearby refining operations and a still-low tax.

But shouldn't we get a break on gas taxes when every other tax here is through the roof? That's an understandable sentiment, which is why the additional revenue must be earmarked for the TTF. We can't afford the Port Authority approach of arbitrary toll increases dedicated to non-mission projects. We expect a tax increase to be visible not just at the pump, but on our highways and bridges. Let's make it so.

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