OPINION: Gas tax swindle makes case for having initiative and referendum in N.J.

On the gas-tax hike the government never giveth, but it damn sight taketh and taketh away

State House TrentonPolitical thieves in Trenton get away with running a 23-cent hike in the gas tax up the flagpole because without the means to fight back, New Jerseyans are powerless to resist, hence they’re forced to roll over and take it.

What are you going to do – primary legislators who support the gas-tax proposal? And when will you do it – well after it’s gone into effect and your pockets have been picked? Good luck with that.

The gas-tax swindle illustrates both an immediate and a systemic problem in New Jersey politics. On the one hand, the already over-taxed residents of the state are slammed with a massive boost in the gas tax – an $850 million tax increase – which will hit and hurt consumers and motorists both immediately and in the long run,  in return for PROMISES of incrementally eliminating the estate tax, lowering the sales tax in two stages and providing additional, but very targeted, tax breaks for some New Jerseyans.

The problem is the gas tax will be hiked all at once and now – they’re talking this Friday – while the so-called “tax cuts” will come down the road, and then I’d wager the farm they’ll come not at all since politicians always conveniently forget to pass the second half of deals like this – or repeal the cuts just before they’re to go into effect.

Pick your favorite, because they all equally apply:

  • The government never giveth but it damn sight taketh and taketh away. Cursed be the name of the government.
  • Like, if you believe the cuts will come at all, then have I got a deal for you to buy a franchise to raise free-range cobras for medical research in your kid’s bedroom.
  • Tain’t gonna happen, McGee.
  • It’s a rip off, and you know it.

And revenue raised by the 23-cent hike will be frittered away hither and yon despite a proposed constitutional amendment to the contrary that will be on the November ballot. It’s what politicians do best: waste our money.

No mention is made of taking a red pencil to highway project costs, which are some of the highest in the nation at $2 million per mile, or getting rid of cumbersome, union-imposed work and prevailing-wage rules that result in more shovel-leaning than shovel-digging or the like. Just raise taxes and throw money at the problem.

But the lack of immediate and substantive remedies illustrates the systemic problem, and that is New Jerseyans, unlike residents of many other states, are powerless to push back.

Where I come from, the day a proposal like this is announced there’s an immediate filing of an initiative to the Legislature or a referendum on any legislatively-enacted tax hike to repeal it forthwith and place either an outright ban on hiking the tax, or requiring a super-majority of the legislature to enact any tax or fee increases of any kind.

The following day, signature gatherers fan out across the state camping out at every grocery store and mall entrance, sporting event, rally of any kind and going door to door. You’d be surprised what angry people are willing to do to fight for their rights – WHEN THEY HAVE THE POWER TO DO IT.

Battle of Trenton
Battle of Trenton

Then it makes the ballot, and the people, in their infinite wisdom, have the final say, which is as it should be. Usually, the tax hike goes down in flames, followed by weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from big-spending legislators, the supportive media, unions and the special interests who have their hands in whatever cookie jar it is the proposal was meant to augment.

The initiative and referendum processes are the people’s modern equivalent of a vat of very hot tar and millions upon millions of feathers, and the people are willing to use them. As a result, legislatures are gun shy about screwing the people because once that stuff gets on you, it never comes off.

And because the people know they have power, they’re ready to amass in large numbers to drown out the oppressors’ noise. While a rally of 150 people on the Statehouse steps in Trenton is considered a big deal, one featuring 5-10,000 or more people is considered a normal deal in states where the people really are sovereign.

But since New Jersey’s institutional political structure has nothing but contempt for the voters, initiatives and mass rallies won’t happen. The people are like whipped dogs denied their sovereign right to directly legislate or to serve as a check-and-balance on the Legislature and the governor themselves, which gives the both the power to repeatedly abuse the people.

And it’s not a partisan thing, either. Since this devil’s bargain has the backing of Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his Democratic accomplices in the Legislature, the people are left with a somewhat rag-tag cadre of strange-bedfellow opponents to it.

Unless and until the state Constitution is amended to put more direct political power into the hands of the people, New Jerseyans will remain overtaxed, overregulated and over abused.

In the meantime, the only power the people have is to scream and shout, burn the phones to your legislators, write letters to the editor and kindred acts. But who cares about you, right, because in the end is where Trenton politicos will see that you take it.