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As New Jersey considers its 1st gas tax hike in 3 decades, drivers brace for the worst

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HACKENSACK, NJ — It's an issue that's been politically untouchable for decades. Now, though, the gas tax in New Jersey appears to be facing an increase for the first time in 28 years.

Even though it may mean drivers paying 10 percent more at the pump, lawmakers behind the effort say it's better for local residents overall. Drivers gave mixed reviews, however, and were skeptical that the extra 20 cents or so they'll likely pay per gallon will actually be used for its intended purpose.

At just over $2.00 gallon on average, New Jersey has some of the lowest priced gas in the nation, and what's more, state law requires that it be pumped for each driver, full serve. However, before the summer's over, each gallon is likely to increase in price significantly. It's a fact that isn't exactly being embraced by drivers.

"Everything keeps going up except our paychecks," said motorist Miguel Vasquez, a New York City resident filling up on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, where a fillup in his van can be $11.00 cheaper than if he were to fill up in New York.

Nima Sunanian, another out-of-state driver getting her tank topped up, seemed resigned to paying more. "I still have to drive a car, so what can I do?" The Tennessee resident said.

They were reacting to a bi-partisan bill expected to pass the legislature this summer, introduced by Sen. Paul Sarlo (D - Bergen) and Steve Oroho (R - Sussex).

"The transportation trust fund of New Jersey is broke," said State Sen. Sarlo in an interview. Before that fund, which pays for road and rail improvements throughout New Jersey, is depleted June 30th, Sarlo and Oroho hope their proposal is well in place.

It would put New Jersey closer in sync with the rest of the country in terms of gas tax charges.

Currently, the highest gas tax in the nation is in Pennsylvania, which charges just over 50 cents a gallon. That means that for Pennsylvanians like Carlos Pierret, a Jersey fill up is welcome. "I prefer to get it in New Jersey because New Jersey is 25 cents lower."

One of the highest gas tax states is New York. So crossing a bridge or tunnel to tank up has been a no-brainer for drivers like Rebecca Miranda. "I'm from the Bronx," she told PIX11 News, where "it's still a lot more [to fill up]."

At 14.5 cents a gallon, New Jersey has the second lowest gas tax in the country. Only Alaska, which has significant oil production, is lower.

But the problem in Jersey isn't where cars fill up, it's where they ride. Since the transportation trust fund is targeted toward New Jersey infrastructure, many people who spoke with PIX11 who were filling up said they were concerned about where the tax revenue was headed.

"If you're going to use it only for the purpose of maintaining the highways," said Gardeep Malik, "then it makes sense" to raise the gas tax.

Otherwise, the New Jersey resident said, he's against a tax hike.

"The people you spoke to are absolutely correct," said State Sen. Sarlo. "The days of raising taxes for one purpose and then putting in the general fund are over. The money will be in a lockbox," he said.

The gas tax hike is expected to pass the legislature before the end of the month.

Gov. Chris Christie has said in the past that he was unwilling to sign it into law unless other taxes were lowered. Under the Sarlo - Ohoro bill, estate taxes would be slashed, as would taxes on retirement income.