The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / often go awry
— To a Mouse, by Robert Burns
Governor Christie’s five–year Transportation Capital Program might have looked like his “best laid scheme” when it was announced in 2011, but something has clearly gone awry since then. Tri-State had little confidence that Christie could live up to his promise to pay for transportation with more cash and less debt without identifying new and sustainable revenue sources. And with each year that passed, that little confidence has disintegrated into a complete lack of faith.
Here’s a quick look back at his plan, contrasted with how it’s actually panned out:
Governor Christie failed to deliver year after year on his plan “to use more “pay-as-you-go” funding out of the annual state budget to ease a reliance on new borrowing,” and instead used transportation revenues to plug General Fund holes and provide one-shot gimmicks to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).
Flipping couch cushions in the Treasurer’s office each year to keep the TTF afloat has resulted in:
- Over $5.2 billion in new debt (versus the $4.3 billion under Christie’s original plan)
- No cash balance (needed to pay bills as they come due)
- No bonding authority for new projects beyond Fiscal Year 2016
- No revenue to pay debt service on the additional bonding from FY2012-FY2016
- No identified funding stream to replace Port Authority and Turnpike Authority funding
- The TTF will require at least $70 million in new revenues in FY2017 to meet debt service on already issued debt ($1.27 billion annually through FY2024)
- Spending levels from the TTF will have to increase by approximately $350 million to maintain current funding levels and replace Port Authority funding
- Spending levels from the TTF will have to increase by $295 million to replace the money from the Turnpike Authority, which will also expire after FY2016
- Funding levels in FY2017 and beyond will have to exceed the $1.6 billion (historically stagnant) level in order to pay debt and pay for much needed infrastructure projects
But wait, there’s more. That $1.6 billion is simply the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s annual appropriation level, as in, NJDOT can plan $1.6 billion in projects for each year, but does not necessarily have to have the actual money on hand—and they didn’t. According to an analysis by the Office of Legislative Services, there is a $700 million gap between the funding sources and the appropriations due to a “reduction in appropriations from the sales tax and the diversion of planned Turnpike Authority funds to New Jersey Transit’s operating budget.” Governor Christie tried to make up for that diversion with additional bonding, but still came up about $700 million shy over the life of the plan.
If New Jersey doesn’t soon find a solution, NJDOT may need to cancel projects that have already been authorized. According to NJDOT Commissioner Jamie Fox — perhaps the most candid member of Christie’s cabinet — if the legislature does nothing to replenish the TTF before July 1, 2016, the State will hit a wall which will result in drastic cuts. “We are in a crisis,” Fox told the Senate Budget Committee, and we couldn’t agree more.