The stage has been set and unfortunately it looks like the show must go on with fare hikes and service cuts for New Jersey Transit riders. The strong opposition and calls to fix New Jersey’s broken transportation funding structure have evidently fallen on deaf ears in Trenton.
Last week, the New Jersey Legislature passed, and Governor Christie signed, a budget without including new revenue for transportation, without a gas tax increase and without any increase to NJ Transit’s operating subsidy, essentially sealing the fate of the proposed fare hike and service cuts. It also means there will be even more pressure on the legislature and the governor to come up with a funding scheme for next year.
The New Jersey for Transit Coalition (of which Tri-State is a member) expressed great dissatisfaction not only with the governor, but also with the legislative leadership on failure to address the state’s transportation funding crisis. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s office responded:
“Anyone suggesting the Speaker is not standing up for commuters is being disingenuous, to say the least,” said Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester Jr. “The New Jersey commuter has no greater friend than Speaker Prieto, who has advocated – at political risk – for rebuilding New Jersey’s roadways and mass transit infrastructure. The Speaker does not believe handing NJ Transit a big pile of cash and trusting it to spend it properly is the answer. He and many other Assembly Democrats have called for NJ Transit to avoid the fare hikes by controlling its spending and showing some fiscal restraint and responsibility. In fact, the Speaker was the first to condemn the fare hikes. This is the bottom line – anyone angered by the NJ Transit fare hike should be focusing their ire where it belongs – Governor Christie’s office.”
But the Speaker is essentially still handing NJ Transit a “pile of cash.” The only difference is that the pile is coming not from the state’s coffers, but directly from the pockets of commuters.
“[T]his governor – whose career is based on kicking shanked golf balls back onto the fairway when no one is watching – gets to tell a dense electorate that he hasn’t raised taxes. He meanwhile screws the middle class by hiking these fares, and skimming money from their utility bills to balance his budgets. These are all tax hikes by another name.”
If the NJ Transit board adopts the proposed fare hikes, it will be fifth time transit riders have seen the cost of their commute go up since 2000, and the second time during Christie’s watch. (Transit riders in New Jersey pay the highest fares in the nation, while New Jersey drivers pay the lowest gas taxes in the lower 48 states.)
It’s time to stop pointing fingers, Trenton. New Jersey’s transportation funding system is broken. It doesn’t matter who broke it. Just fix it.