- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday touted an anti-tax crusader’s endorsement of a proposed 23-cent- per-gallon gasoline tax hike along with a sales tax cut, sweeping aside objections raised by Democratic leaders in the state Senate and voicing confidence that the measure would be passed in that chamber.

Christie all but dared lawmakers not to act on his plan during a statehouse news conference, a day after the Assembly passed the plan to pay for a $2 billion a year transportation trust fund for eight years. The fund runs out of borrowing authority Friday, and Christie’s last-minute proposal resulted in the Democrat-led Assembly scrapping a vote on their own plan.

Christie said lawmakers have been complaining for months that he wasn’t engaged enough on the issue. And now that he is, they don’t like his proposal, he said. He called on them to approve his plan during Thursday’s session.

The increase would send New Jersey’s current gas tax of 14.5 cents per gallon from second-lowest in the country behind Alaska to roughly equal that of Connecticut, which has the sixth-highest at 37.51 cents, according to the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organization

Christie, who ran a failed presidential campaign and now supports Donald Trump, signed a pledge not to raise taxes sponsored by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group. The organization endorsed Christie’s proposal Wednesday in a statement released just as Christie’s news conference began.

Christie said the group backed the Assembly bill “saying that it represented tax fairness as well.”

He said the sales tax cut from 7 percent to 6 percent phased in over 2017 and 2018 will cost about $1.3 billion, while the gas tax hike is estimated to bring in roughly the same amount. The result will be a net neutral tax on residents, he said. Legislative estimates, however, suggest the state could lose up to nearly $2 billion a year.

The state Senate is expected take up the issue Thursday. But Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeny said he was in the dark about it, and other senators - including some Republicans - are speaking out against the plan.

Democratic State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said Wednesday that the Democrats who control the upper house are united against the measure. She and other critics held a separate news conference Wednesday where they referred to the deal as “asinine” and “penny wise and more than a pound foolish.”

Christie disputed speculation about opposition, saying some senators initially voiced concern about the proposal because they had received incorrect information about it. The governor voiced confidence the bill would pass in the Senate, adding that he would sign the legislation once it reached his desk.

“Republicans and Democrats should not make this a partisan issue,” Christie said. “There are many Republicans who don’t think we should increase the gas tax at all. There are Democrats who don’t like any tax cuts. That’s why this (proposal) works - because it goes to average New Jerseyans.”

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