As Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey Legislature continue to generally agree on the need to raise the state’s gas tax to revitalize the Transportation Trust Fund and disagree on how to do it, here are some memories from the Center on the American Governor archives on how it was done last time – in 1988.
Judy Shaw who was later Governor Whitman’s first Chief of Staff recalled her experience during the Kean administration when she was in the DOT serving as Chief of Staff to Commissioner Hazel Gluck, in a CAG interview with Marie DeNoia Aronsohn on October 24, 2012.
Judy Shaw: …And then I was asked to go to the Department of Transportation as the Chief of Staff. Hazel [Gluck]was moved over from the Department of Insurance to DOT, so I had an opportunity to work with her again, which I thought was the good news. The bad news was, and for her, too, I think, the Governor came to her and said, “Look, we really need to raise the gas tax to refund the Transportation Trust Fund.” That hadn’t been done. The first time they put it in place, John Sheridan [the previous DOT Commissioner] and Jim Weinstein as his Chief of Staff, had found a way to fund it without raising the gas tax, but when it was running on E and that seemed to be the only option. So it took us 18 months to raise the tax, I think, five cents, but that was a great experience, because I became convinced that if you show people what they get for their money, they’re willing to spend it. So while we all complained about the orange cones on every street and every bridge in New Jersey, people at least said, “Well, those are my tax dollars, and I’m getting something for it.”
Marie DeNoia Aronsohn: How did you convey that? How did you build your case for that?
Judy Shaw: Well, we had several very potent arguments, we thought. One thing we did from the political standpoint was to make a list of every project in every legislative district, and we went to the legislators and said, “If you can pass this, this is what you will get in your district, this bridge, this traffic light, this widening, this culvert,” whatever the issue had been in that district. And then we made arguments on the broader scale, which talked about so many out-of-state people paying the tax. With New Jersey being a corridor state – kind of between Philadelphia and New York – we had the percentage. I don’t recall now what it was, but to pick a number 40 percent of all gas purchased in New Jersey is by out-of-staters. So we had 40 percent of that work being done by people out of state who weren’t taxed for it, and we had the lowest taxes of anybody in the country at the time. We went to labor and talked to them about all of the work that they would get, and other good government arguments about the value of sound infrastructure, how long it would last. And after eighteen months we were successful, and that was the last time it was raised, by the way. (Still true as of 07/01/2016)
The full interview (with transcript) with Judy Shaw, is available here.