Frustrated by the lack of attention to the looming transportation funding crisis in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, TSTC sent surveys to the three major candidates late this summer. Below is a narrative of the responses to the survey, broken down by issue. Coincidentally, the surveys were received the same week that transportation entered the race in a big way. Republican candidate Chris Christie declined to comment.
Transportation Trust Fund
New Jersey’s transportation lifeline is fading fast as the Transportation Trust Fund, the main source of funds for capital projects, will go bankrupt as early as next year. Both Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine and Independent challenger Chris Daggett acknowledged the urgency of replenishing the fund in their survey responses, but offered different levels of specificity as to how they would do so.
Governor Corzine remained vague on the issue of raising revenue, stating only that he would consider constitutionally dedicating funds to the Trust Fund, and is open to the idea of high-occupancy toll lanes. (Since returning the survey, he has said would consider raising the gas tax to fund transportation.) He did however, describe his achievements with the 2006 reauthorization, focused on the expansion of the fund to $1.6 billion and the projects it funded, such as the ARC Tunnel. The 2006 increase in capital spending was enabled by allowing the fund to take on more debt. Governor Corzine added that he supports a strong reauthorization of federal transportation legislation, citing it as critical to filling in funding gaps at the state level.
On the policy side, the Governor responded that he would support the inclusion of greenhouse gas reduction goals in the Trust Fund. He highlighted the most recent draft of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction plan, which includes a goal of capping growth in vehicle miles traveled at 1% per year through 2020. Under his direction, the DEP is also investing 10% of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative revenue into a local grant program, which funds sustainable planning efforts. He also touted his work with the federal government to mandate that automakers reduce fleet-wide emissions by 30% by 2016, as well as his reduction of the state fleet.
Independent candidate Chris Daggett began by stating that New Jersey needs to honestly discuss its transportation needs and costs, and must therefore look at expanded user based fees. Specifically, he listed the gas tax, a sales tax on fuel, adding tolls to currently free roadways, and private public partnerships as possible revenue generators. Daggett went on to identify key points that need to be addressed when the fund is replenished such as completing the ARC tunnel, and an updated inventory and cost of bridge repair, traffic bottlenecks, and drainage problems, as well as the identification of strategic transit, freight, bicycle and pedestrian investments. Daggett also supports linking greenhouse gas goals with transportation investment.
Unlike Daggett and Corzine, Republican candidate Chris Christie has not said he will consider an increase in the gas tax or other fees as a means to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund. Instead, Christie has said the state should spend what it has and “reassess where [it is] from an economic standpoint” after a few years, a strategy he has called “pay-as-you-go.” (This is not the conventional definition of “pay-as-you-go” funding, which refers to avoiding debt financing; increasing the gas tax and dedicating the revenue to the TTF would qualify as “pay-as-you-go” under the normal definition.)
In their survey responses, the Independent and Democratic candidates said they understood the value of a broad and usable public transit network, the need to incorporate land use into transportation planning, and the need to complete the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel.
Governor Corzine highlighted his success in breaking ground on the ARC tunnel, allocating 40% of Transportation Trust Fund revenues to NJ Transit, reducing agency administrative expenses, and avoiding fare increasess. He was also very supportive of bus rapid transit, explaining that the Liberty Corridor goes hand-in-glove with the wildly successful GoBus in Newark, and described the benefits of an expanded PATCO system with BRT component.
The incumbent balked at our characterization that a lack of a dedicated source of operating funds would cripple NJ Transit’s ability to fund future transportation projects. He argued that a dedicated source of operating funds would not necessarily fix anything, citing the MTA’s reliance on fluctuating real estate taxes. (However, the MTA does not use funds from its capital budget to pay for operating costs, as NJ Transit does.)
Chris Daggett emphasized the need to end NJ Transit’s capital-to-operating transfer in the long term, though he said that the state’s fiscal situation made it unlikely the transfer could be fixed in the short-term. Daggett went on to praise NJ Transit’s efforts to target development around future bus rapid transit lines. He specifically cited the Route 1 “Einstein’s Alley” corridor as an area where this smart-growth strategy would be integral.
Chris Christie has told the Bergen Record that he supports light rail expansion and increased transit that could support industrial development in northwest NJ. In the same conversation, he said the state needed to reconsider whether certain transportation projects had enough usage to justify their cost, singling out NJ Transit’s River Line.
MTR will post the second half of the survey responses tomorrow.