Gas tax brings out dissent within Sussex GOP

“This is the same thing I’m going to have to do, over and over and over again,” Steve Oroho was reported as saying (NJ Herald, 23 Oct.) after the state senator met with Mayor Nicholas Giordano of Franklin, a fellow Republican.

“This” was successfully convincing Giordano to retract his stated demand for Oroho’s resignation or recall in light of the senator’s sponsorship of a bill that includes a hefty hike in the state’s gas tax.

oroho-phoebus-space.jpg“I have been corrected. I am favorable of the gas tax,” Giordano said after the meeting, according to the Herald.

Set to be implemented in November, the tax hikes gas 23 cents per gallon (a number that can fluctuate according to a formula) and is estimated to cost the state’s drivers an average of $170 per year. The money generated is earmarked for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. To sweeten the deal, the tax was accompanied by a massive tax break for the wealthy (raising the threshold for, and eventually eliminating, the estate tax) and minimal breaks for the state’s less wealthy residents and the working poor (a 0.4 percent reduction in the sales tax and a 5 percent increase in the Earned Income Credit.

While the “rob Peter to pay Paul” legislation may solve the state’s infrastructure crisis, it does so at the expense of its general operating budget, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The net effect on the state’s general fund will be a $1 billion hit by 2021.

While Giordano’s initial objection to the tax included the elimination of the estate tax, a move he originally said would benefit only the wealthy, some prominent area Republicans support those provisions while continuing to insist on a recall of the gas price hike.

These include State Reps. Gail Phoebus and Parker Space (R) two-thirds of the 24th legislative districts delegation to Trenton. Although Phoebus and Space have yet to formally add their names to the proposal to repeal the bill introduced Oct. 20 by Senators Kip Bateman and Mike Doherty, the duo have been vocal in their opposition, charging that it hurts ordinary residents, especially those in areas like the 24th district where a whopping majority of those employed have a significant automobile commute to work.

Their open defiance of Oroho, who as senator is the nominal leader of the district’s Trenton delegation, brings to light a fissure within the Sussex County GOP that roughly mirrors that of the national party. Oroho plays the role analogous to the Bushes and Romney’s of the traditional GOP. Phoebus/Space speak out for the populist, “anti-elite” voters. Oroho, one of a handful of Republicans to support the hike in the legislature, voted across the aisle to support a measure that the Tea Partyish, Trumpesque coterie of voters sees as yet another example of those in power stomping on their economic interest, while still supporting tax cuts for the wealthy in apparent agreement with the Oroho wing that any cuts in taxes ipso facto reduce “big government” and benefit people like themselves.

While Oroho makes the rounds of Republicans like Giordana, “educating” them about its purported savings, the fact that neither Phoebus nor Space has yet to come around suggests that the growing chasm between the conservative elitist and nationalist populist segments of the GOP that has played out so dramatically on the national stage is alive in Sussex County, and it may take more than evening schmoozes over coffee to heal the breech.