New Jersey press outlets have been fixated on Governor Corzine’s asset monetization plan, printing dozens of articles daily. But few have covered potential changes that could make the plan more palatable to many in the state. Republicans, who hold 32 of 80 seats in the State Assembly and 17 of 40 seats in the State Senate, signed an agreement last week to oppose the plan, and there enough Democratic legislators with concerns about the plan that it is unlikely to pass the legislature without significant modifications. The question is, how should the plan be modified? Below are six ways state officials can craft a better plan.
- Fund good road projects that provide sustainable congestion relief. Tri-State, along with many environmental groups, has called the billions of dollars in Corzine’s plan slated for highway expansion “a step backwards for a state nationally recognized for its smart growth oriented transportation policy.” Expansion projects include the $2 billion expansion of the NJ Turnpike between exits 6 and 9, the addition of 100 lane-miles to the Garden State Parkway between exits 30 and 80, the widening of the Atlantic City Expressway, and the widening of Route 17 (a corridor previously slated for NJFIT’s innovative transportation program). In total, the expansions will cost at least $3 billion, but are likely to provide no long-term congestion relief. Instead of paying for expansion projects, Corzine could send the projects back to the drawing board to find cheaper solutions, and fund smart growth oriented projects that are lagging, like the removal of Route 29 in Trenton.
- Include a fix-it-first mandate in the asset monetization legislation. To ensure that New Jersey continues to reduce its backlog of roads and bridges in poor condition, fix-it-first legislation should be included within the asset monetization plan. The legislation could require that 4% or less of transportation dollars raised by the plan go to expanding roadways, for example. Currently, less than 3% of NJDOT’s transportation program is spent on expansion, a trend that should extend to the other transportation agencies in the state.
- Create a dedicated fund for transit operations. One long standing problem in the state is the annual diversion of capital dollars from the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for the day-to-day operations of NJ Transit. This is unsustainable, and severely limits the state’s ability to expand transit capacity. NJ Transit is the largest transit agency in the country without a dedicated source of operating funds (see MTR #s 481, 482).
- Increase funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs. Year after year, municipal requests for cycling and walking programs exceed available state money (see, for example, MTR # 494). If communities want to improve cycling and walking conditions, the state should do all it can to support them.
- Distribute the debt burden equally. Outcry that Corzine’s proposal disproportionately affects those that rely on toll roads has risen to a point that many around the state have suggested a gas tax increase (a proposal normally dreaded by politicians). As New Jersey Policy Perspective wrote in a recent Star-Ledger op-ed, “Employing gas taxes and car-related fees as part of an overall solution would produce significant revenue – and call upon a majority of New Jersey residents, regardless of where in the state they live, to have a role in repairing the state’s finances.” We couldn’t agree more.
- Ensure a meaningful public process. One concern many advocates have is that Corzine’s proposed Public Benefit Corporation will be immune from public oversight or a legal process. This is a valid worry and should be taken very seriously. The Governor must clearly lay out a thorough legal process that enables meaningful public input and requires transparency on the part of the corporation.