Bridging the gap between state budgets.

The unincorporated community of Upper Black Eddy clutches the western bank of the Delaware River as though its existence depends upon the aquatic arterial. Because it does.        Upper Black Eddy PAIt’s so small, the Census doesn’t even track it. Despite the fact the hotel operated by the Black family first operated at least 150 years ago, the settlement never coalesced into anything big enough to warrant incorporation. Upper Black Eddy is a hamlet within Bridgeton Township, which emerged during the peak of canal trade, where its location between the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal and the Delaware River proved pivotal enough to elicit a handful of businesses. Among them is a post office:IMG_4330The community, not surprisingly, includes a cluster of handsome homes; most of the Delaware Valley north of Philadelphia is affluent.IMG_4327IMG_4329IMG_4333

One of the businesses in Upper Black Eddy is peculiar, though not for what it sells.IMG_4335The Riverside Garage looks like a run-of-the-mill rural vehicular service and gas station, and its location on Pennsylvania State Route 32 virtually guarantees that it receives regular business, at least in proportion to much activity in this generally rural area. So what’s fishy about it? Zoom in a little closer.IMG_4336The gas tanks are missing their pumps. They’re non-functional. And while Riverside Garage was clearly closed on this rainy Sunday, it’s equally apparent that the business is still operative. So it still performs basic maintenance and state inspection services. But why no gas?

As is often the case, I can only speculate. But my guess is at least reasonably informed. Pivot 90 degrees and we can gaze upon the most likely answer.IMG_4337Not far at all is a prominent bridge over the Delaware River, which forms the state line between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And immediately on the New Jersey side is the Borough of Milford. While hardly a megalopolis, Milford is significantly larger than Upper Black Eddy.DSCF3079DSCF3081It also includes a clearly identifiable main street, and at least a few gas/service stations of its own.

And there’s the clincher. I’ve mused on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border multiple times in the past, usually from the perspective of the advantages conferred to Pennsylvania by virtue of its significantly lower cigarette taxes. The average smoker can deduce that PA has significantly lower taxes than NJ without doing any research. How? Just look at the businesses on the Pennsylvania side: a disproportionate number of them are smoke shops. In the Borough of Morrisville (pop. 8,800) the commercial district seems to be about 50% cigarettes (and, in this day and age, no doubt vape and e-cigs).

The service station in Upper Black Eddy demonstrates the flip side of the coin: historically, New Jersey has claimed the cheapest gas in the northeastern US for at least a few decades. Gas has averaged about thirty cents per gallon less than Pennsylvania. Thus, it’s hardly brain surgery: anyone within five miles of the Delaware River would steal across a bridge to the Keystone State for cheap smokes, for the same reason they’d cross into the Garden State to fill up their fuel tank. The tax structure between the two states makes it nigh impossible for a business on the disfavored side of the river to operate, so the Riverside Garage pulled out its gas pumps. If one were to quantify, I suspect New Jersey towns along the Delaware River reveal a disproportionate number of gas stations, possibly to the point that municipal zoning regulations seek to keep them in check. Furthermore, these jurisdictional differences in taxation always raise concerns for legislators in the high-tax state, if it can enjoy a net gain in tax revenue through the heftier imposition. Or do all the people that eschew the hefty taxes induce a deadweight loss, nullifying any benefit in higher state revenues through increased taxation?

It’s a bit of a surprise to discover that Riverside Garage only recently removed the pumps; in the summer of 2015, they still seemed functional. Obviously the owners could have had other reasons. It’s equally possible that it was a temporary condition. My Upper Black Eddy pics come from summer of 2016. And last October, New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed a bill raising his state’s gas tax by 23 cents, placing it nearly at parity with Pennsylvania. Without the cost savings the locals used to enjoy by crossing the river, Upper Black Eddy may find a new reason for being.

5 thoughts on “Bridging the gap between state budgets.

  1. Chris B

    Ah, reminds me of the days when the drinking age was lower in Jersey than Pa. Talk about border business opportunities!

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      I was never aware of a time when the drinking age differed by state, but I guess that was common in the swingin’ sixties and seventies…

      When I lived in Louisiana, people reminisced about the drinking age at 18, a statute the Pelican State clung to until the 1990s.

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        Until the late 70s, Jersey’s drinking age was 19 while PA was 21 and it was common for Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley college students to head across the border to legally buy alcohol or drink. New York was also higher than Jersey, I think, which made the Jersey Shore a party destination for the two big metros next door. (Also in those days, PA drivers’ licenses did not have pictures…they were the tear-off end of an IBM punch card into the 80s…so borrowing a DL from an older sibling or friend was not uncommon.)

        The age was raised in about 1979 or 80. It was done by “birthdate” so the ability to buy alcohol was not taken away from anyone who already had it.

        My old man story for the week. 🙂

        Reply
      2. Chris B

        It was in the 90s that the Federal DOT threatened to cut off highway money for states without their drinking age set at 21.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          When I used to live in Louisiana, my friends used to blame the quality of their roads on the fact that they were among the last (if not THE last) states to resist raising the drinking age to 21, and so the state actually went many years with no federal highway money. Could be true. Outside of BIA lands, they were the worst I had seen in the US. To this day, south Louisiana is the only place I know where you can order daiquiris at a drive-thru; they’re considered “sealed beverages” until you punch the straw through the plastic lining the top of the cup.

          Reply

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