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Last week, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo together approved a substantial increase in the toll rate paid to cross bridges and tunnels between New York and New Jersey. The increase of $1.50 on EZ pass users (or $2 for cash payers) will go into effect next month. This will be followed by four consecutive increases of 75 cents each annually from 2012 through 2015, for a total hike of at least $4.50 over five years.
Both governors supported the toll increases, saying that the dire fiscal situation facing the Port Authority, which is reliant on toll revenue, means that the “increase cannot be avoided.” The governors’ willingness to shore up revenue for the Port Authority through toll increases stands in sharp contrast to their reputations as “anti-tax” governors who have relentlessly refused to increase any taxes to deal with their states’ current fiscal disparities.
As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy explains, increases in tolls or other “user fees” are often used by politicians to increase revenue while avoiding having to enact anything that could be called a “tax increase.”
Josh McMahon, writing for the New Jersey News Room, argues that Christie is just playing “a game of semantics” so that he can continue the “charade that he’s not raising any taxes.”
The move by the governors is proving relatively unpopular with New Jersey voters, 54% of whom oppose the increases, according to a recent poll.
In contrast, 72% of New Jersey voters and 64% of New York voters support ‘millionaires tax’ proposals, which would help counterbalance some of the regressive features of both the New Jersey and New York tax systems. Both Cuomo and Christie went out of their way to torpedo these proposals in recent months.
Voters in both states can’t be blamed for wondering whose interests their governors are protecting.
Photos via Gisele 13 Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0