NJ Transit Village Program Doesn’t Survive Budget Fight

Gov. Christie and New Jersey state legislators have been wrangling for weeks over the budget. Lawmakers passed their own budget on June 29 in an attempt to reverse some of the governor’s cuts. The next day, mere hours before the state constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget and avoid a state government shutdown, Governor Christie used his power to make multiple line-item vetoes to the budget bill and signed it into law, enraging Democratic leaders. Legislators unsuccessfully tried to override some of the vetoes this week, and will hold public hearings on the budget next week.

Some of the loudest rancor has come over issues like social services and women’s health care. Behind the headlines, the line-item vetoed budget cuts programs that offer New Jersey residents better transportation, housing choices and business opportunities. The governor cut funding for the Transit Village program, cut $10 million from local aid and cut $10 million from NJ Transit’s operating budget.  Lawmakers also passed fast-tracked legislation to provide subsidies for American Dream, the Meadowlands mega-mall that still lacks a proper transportation plan.

Transit Villages

The Transit Village program has helped strengthen many of New Jersey's downtowns, such as Metuchen.

As previously reported in MTR, NJDOT’s fiscal year 2012 capital program would defund the Transit Village program. TSTC, along with NJ Future and others, has been campaigning tirelessly to see that funding is restored this year.

Through those efforts, funding was restored in budget bill, S4000 (Sarlo)/A4200 (Greenwald), the state appropriations bill for FY2012. But the program was among those cut by line-item veto.

Important to note is that the funding of the Transit Village program did not require any additional state appropriation; merely an allocation of existing funding for a program NJDOT Commissioner Jim Simpson admitted was a mistake to defund in the first place.  So why veto it?

Other Transportation Cuts

Governor Christie also reduced NJDOT’s Local Aid Infrastructure Fund, which is “established to address emergencies and regional needs throughout the State,” by $10 million, bringing total Local Aid down from $200 million to $190 million.  The governor also cut $10 million from NJ Transit’s budget, the last thing the agency needs in light of last year’s fare hike and service cuts. NJ Transit officials assured MTR that the cut in funding will not have an effect on services or fares, but only time will tell.

Ironically, Governor Christie made the aforementioned cuts from his own budget proposal’s funding levels, not any increased funding under the budget bill. Since releasing his budget proposal, the Governor has touted increased funding for transportation. To turn around and cut a portion of that funding seems counterintuitive.

Rail stations and transit hubs are key to the state’s economic recovery and future economic vitality.  Investing in transportation and smart growth must be made a priority. Restoring funding for Transit Villages would demonstrate a key fundamental government understanding of the symbiotic relationship among the environmental, business and transportation needs of New Jersey.

American Dream

Sitting on the Governor’s desk is S2972 (Lesniak)/A4161 which, when signed, will permit $200 million in tax breaks for American Dream, formerly known as Xanadu.  This is made possible by expanding the definition of “qualifying economic redevelopment and growth grant incentive area” under the NJ Economic Stimulus Act of 2009  to include the Meadowlands in areas eligible for the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant program.

Seems like things are full steam ahead for American Dream, despite the lack of a real mitigation plan for the traffic and environmental impacts which will result from this project.

The bill also makes changes to the state’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit, which provides tax credits for major office and residential development near transit stations in nine cities. As part of the credit, residential projects of more than $50 million are currently eligible for a credit of up to 20% of the capital investment made in the project; this law will increase that to 35%, extend eligibility to mixed-use projects, and remove a requirement that the project include affordable housing (localities can implement their own requirements, however).

Photo: Looney Ricks Kiss.

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