New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, still pondering a presidential primary run, has the distraction in his home state of decaying infrastructure as he struggles to raise money to pay for road and bridge repairs, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Christie has been urged by state Democrats to increase taxes on gasoline to pay for new roads project, even as polls show such a notion is unpopular, the Journal said.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll
found that 68 percent of New Jersey residents oppose a gas tax hike while 28 percent approve of it. The last time a gas tax increase occurred was in 1988.
"New Jersey residents see the need for road repairs, but they want policymakers to find the revenue somewhere else, rather than their overtaxed wallets," said PublicMind Director Krista Jenkins, a professor of political science.
The state's gasoline tax is among the nation's lowest — 10.5 cents a gallon. But the Journal noted that "hundreds of bridges are structurally deficient" and bad roads, which rank among the nation's worst, have led state residents to spend about $600 annually each on car repairs because of the roads.
Fixing the problem is difficult politically as Christie debates with state lawmakers on what kind, if any, tax increase might work to raise revenue. The state's transportation fund is $15 billion in debt and has hit the point at which new projects cannot be funded, the Journal said.
Conservatives remain "skeptical" of the Republican governor, who has publicly promoted his ability to keep taxes down in a state full of Democrats, the Journal said.
Manhattan Institute senior fellow Steve Malanga told the Journal the issue could crop up in a future election bid. "You have to prove you’re conservative enough before you get to the general election," Malanga said.
"I think there would definitely be those on the right that would point to this and other things to say he shouldn’t be the candidate," he said.
Christie has said publicly that "everything is on the table" as he continues to make decisions on his political future and keeps up a heavy traveling schedule, the Huffington Post reported.
One would be to cut or eliminate the estate tax, a swap benefiting the wealthy that Gordon MacInnes, president of the New Jersey Policy Perspective, says is a "perfectly terrible idea."
Wrote MacInnes: "Fixing the state's transportation mess is crucial. And there's no alternative but to find significant, stable funding to do so. Nor should the politics of Gov. Christie possibly seeking his party's presidential nomination trump responding to New Jersey's emergency."
He added of the dilemma: "This is an immediate and defining test of the governor's legacy: does his personal ambition overtake his oath to meet New Jersey's glaring needs and serve all its people? Or, is his price for fixing New Jersey's transportation mess to worsen the state's badly deteriorated financial condition by taking care of the fortunate few?"
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