A Modest Proposal

A plan out of Trenton could single out a group of hard-working people to help soothe the sting of the state’s budget crunch.

A plan out of Trenton could single out a group of hard-working people to help soothe the sting of the state’s budget crunch.

This page is generally dedicated to expressions of Jersey pride, good-natured jabs at the lunacy of our daily life, or other pithy musings that close the magazine on a fun note. This month, however, we’ve had to pull our scheduled column to break a news item leaked exclusively to New Jersey Monthly.

Governor Jon Corzine is close to announcing a plan to finance the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund. The “no gas tax hike” campaign pledge from a giddy candidate has morphed into ominous “everything is under consideration” media leaks. Statehouse sources indicate that experts have posited some options. Raise the sales or income taxes? Close the Parkway for monthly NJDOT flea markets, or host quarterly “Turnpike Tricky Trays”? Dump recyclables into yawning potholes? There may be veiled mentions of contingency plans for laying off political appointees, but no crackdowns on the privileged few who collect municipal and state jobs to artificially inflate their pensions. Still, one senior staffer suggests that the governor is anguished by possibly revealing himself to be a politician. “He knows what he promised during the campaign and appreciates how hard it is for citizens to make ends meet,” says the official, who wouldn’t speak on the record for fear of being jobless after this story runs, “but he was running for governor; what did you expect him to say?”

The source did unveil the administration’s latest alternative to the gas tax—a gas attendant tax, requiring the men and women who pump our gas to pay a $1 surcharge to the Transportation Trust Fund for every hour they work. “See, this is really out-of-the-box thinking, not the politics-as-usual moves of many past administrations,” the staffer says. “Plus, it works on two levels. The minimum wage is about to go up soon, so it’s not as though gas-station attendants will be losing money; they just won’t make more. And it won’t alienate the wealthy, because, for once, they won’t have to pay their lawyers and accountants to find more tax shelters.”

Trying to glean insight from legislators about the tax plan proved fruitless. But one leader is happy to vent. “Let’s run the numbers,” says Chip Carey of Petrol Pumpers Local 318 in Elizabeth. “We’ve got 8,000 attendants working roughly 50 hours a week. That’s $400,000 a week, or nearly $21 million for the year. That won’t pave the driveway at Drumthwacket.”

A taxpayers’-rights group, Ain’t Pretending Reform Is Likely, is planning a march in Trenton this month to fight the plan. “We don’t want to pump gas, either, and God knows we don’t have too many perks left in this state,” says Chad Pickett, a Monmouth County taxidermist and march organizer, “but we are outraged that taxpaying citizens continue to be marginalized.”

Still, the concern remains that this effort will lead to a sheep-shearer’s tax to offset state farm subsidies, or a checkout-clerk’s levy in lieu of a bump in the sales tax. One untouchable? Starbucks. “We would never breach the barista barrier,” says the governor’s flack. “We’d find ways to trim 2,500 state employees before we got on the coffee nation’s bad side.”

As concerns over the secretive budget discussions continue, APRIL’s organizer, Pickett, gladly accepted the support of Ho-Ho-Kus grassroots group Finishing Off Our Life Savings. Founder Sara Burnstingen has taken the bold step of securing a petition, signed by 15,000 disgruntled Bergen and Passaic voters. “We’re not stopping until we have every county on board,” Burnstingen says. “It’s time to take back a government that used to be ours—and keep unleaded gas off our fingers.”

Before the state issues a call for Span Sundays, when elementary schools donate their string and rubber bands collections so volunteers can patch the Pulaski Skyway and Commodore Barry Bridge, here’s hoping that APRIL and FOOLS can work together to keep everyone happy.

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