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NJ lawmakers pass 23-cent gas tax hike amid compromise that one legislator calls ‘worst bill that has ever passed’

TRENTON, N.J. — It's been the cheapest gasoline on the East Coast for years, but some votes in the New Jersey legislature on Friday afternoon officially put that to an end.

Gas will soon be 23 cents a gallon more expensive.

But that tax hike only happened as a result of a deal for tax cuts elsewhere, and those cuts have some legislators more upset than they are with the gas tax increase.

By significant margins, but after a lengthy senate debate, New Jersey's legislature passed the 23 cent a gallon gas tax. It's designed to raise funds to improve the state's roadways and railways.

Despite that, at least one veteran state senator pulled no punches when describing the gas tax legislation.

"This is the worst bill that has ever passed the senate in my entire polictial career," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County, who's been a legislator in Trenton for 38 years.

He said he was angry over the compromise that enabled the gas tax hike to go through. It was only able to pass along with another measure that makes major cuts to the estate tax as well as slight reductions in sales taxes. The change is estimated by non-partisan analysts to result in a $1.4 billion loss in state revenue over the next six years.

"We're not going to be able to pay for college programs. We won't be able to pay for public education."

In contrast, Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Democrat representing Bergen County and parts of Passaic County, said, "Today was a vote more about our our infrastructure. There is no easy answer."

He also responded to criticism that the gas tax revenues, estimated to raise $2 billion a year, will get earmarked for programs other than those for which it was intended. "We've put in measures now," Sarlo said, "to ensure that politicians don't use it. It's in a lockbox that's earmarked for infrastructure."

Gov. Chris Christie said he'll sign into law the tax increase, marking the first time New Jersey has hiked its gas tax -- the second-lowest in the nation -- since 1988.

The estate tax would be phased out over the next year and a half and the sales tax would be cut by three-eighths of a percentage point. There will also be tax credits for veterans and the working poor.

The changes will go into effect November 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.