Anyone trying to make sense of all of the bad news for New Jersey transportation this week—the lack of transportation talk in Governor Christie’s FY2016 budget address, the 8.4 percent cut to the transportation budget, more debt to fund transportation, the threat of the first NJ Transit fare hike in years—now has their answer.
Last night, Governor Christie said of the soon-to-be-insolvent Transportation Trust Fund, “I’m hopeful that the Senate president and the [state Assembly] Speaker and I will be able to come to a resolution sooner rather than later, but, you know, again, it’s not a crisis at the moment, because we’re funded pretty well now.”
Let’s be honest here. This is a legitimate crisis; New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund is set to run completely dry on July 1, 2015, which has disastrous implications for the state, given that:
- one in three New Jersey bridges is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete
- the poor condition of New Jersey roads costs drivers nearly $2,000 a year
- New Jersey’s rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities is more than double the national average
- expansion of mass transit is at a standstill due to lack of funding
And yet, Governor Christie’s now proposing to cut the transportation budget by 8.4 percent—about $119 million less funding than the current fiscal year. Given the state’s needs, if anything, the budget ought to be increased.
“We’re funded pretty well now,” he says? Let’s look at the state’s transportation debt. In 2011, Governor Christie promised a five-year capital program with increased pay-go and a decreased reliance on debt. With the exception of the first year, Christie has failed to deliver that promise, resulting in more debt and the use of unsustainable one-shot gimmicks. With all current revenues dedicated to debt service for the next 25-plus years, looking to additional bonding for transportation projects is not only fiscally irresponsible, it’s ludicrous. Under Governor Christie’s leadership, New Jersey has seen its credit rating decreased eight times, which negatively impacts the state’s long term liabilities and puts additional strain on future budgets.
So, if “we’re funded pretty well now,” what’s this about a potential NJ Transit fare hike? NJ Transit riders saw a 25 percent fare hike in 2010—the largest in the agency’s history. Leaving transit riders to shoulder the brunt of the transportation funding crisis—yes, crisis—while avoiding raising fees on drivers (we’re looking at you, second-lowest gas tax in the nation) is an irresponsible, inequitable and insufficient way of funding transportation in New Jersey, and certainly not the answer to the pending financial crisis. Yes, crisis.