OCEAN COUNTY, NJ- “Enough is enough”, Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said following Trenton’s announcement that the state gasoline tax will jump by 9.3 cents on October 1.
“This comes just weeks after the Parkway and Turnpike toll increase go into effect,” Vicari said. “I’ve said time and again that these increases are especially unfair to Ocean County residents, who tend to commute longer distances than residents in other counties without the benefits of mass transit.”
Vicari penned a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy and local legislators demanding that the increase, which was “automatically” triggered by a shortfall in gas tax revenue, be revoked.
“The tax increase was the result of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and the decrease in vehicles on the road because of the pandemic,” Vicari said. “While I understand the reasons behind Gov. Murphy’s actions, the pandemic has already led to record unemployment and business closings. Our residents don’t need the burden of another state tax increase.”
The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously opposed a 23-cent hike in the gas tax in 2016 and again came out against a 2-cent increase in 2018.
Vicari pointed to federal census statistics that show more than 108,000 Ocean County residents commute 30 minutes or more to work. More than 90,000 people travel outside of the county to reach their workplace.
Additionally, more than 82 percent of local commuters use their own private vehicle. Only 2 percent rely of public transportation.
“This is a far cry from Northern New Jersey counties that are served by numerous bus, train and light rail line,” Vicari said. “The gas tax is unfair to Ocean County residents who have no other choice than to drive to work.”
The percentage of county residents that use public transportation is only slightly higher than those employees who walk to work, which is just 1 percent of the total workforce.
Vicari also said Ocean County has yet to see any promised benefits from the earlier gas tax increases.
“We’ve seen no progress on the widening of Route 9,” Vicari said. “In fact, the state has made it clear that it has dropped any plans to widen the roadway and instead will simply ‘improve’ some intersections. Lakewood and northern Toms River Township are among the fastest growing regions in the state yet motorists are forced to use a two-lane highway that has remained basically unchanged for a century.”
Vicari also questioned the impact of the tax increase on the county’s $5 billion tourism industry.
“Our seasonal businesses have already suffered great hardships under the governor’s restrictions on indoor dining. Now people are going to have to spend more to reach the Jersey Shore, meaning they will have less money to support our local shops, restaurants and amusement parks,” Vicari said.
In his letter to the governor and legislative leaders, Vicari called for “immediate” action to override the automatic gasoline tax increase.
“These are not normal times. The tax increase was triggered by events that none of us could have foreseen,” Vicari said in the letter. “Immediate action needs to be taken to cancel this oppressive burden before it impacts our residents.”