Lights! Camera! (In)action!

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.

Meanwhile, the governor, who has demonstrated great pride in blocking tax rate hikes, has failed to lead when it comes to transit fare hikes:

“[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.

5 Comments on "Lights! Camera! (In)action!"

  1. “It doesn’t matter who broke it. Just fix it.”

    OK, remind us- how exactly do we fix it??

  2. Rob Durchola | June 29, 2015 at 6:52 pm |

    One needs to be careful when one states that “Transit riders in New Jersey pay the highest fares in the nation”. It is true that fares into New York City are very high for distance traveled; but there are two reasons for this: 1. New York does not contribute to the cost of the service. 2. New Jersey does not collect a state income tax most from NJ residents who work in New York because at most income levels the New York tax is higher than the New Jersey tax and therefore, none of the income tax paid by these residents is contributing to the funding of New Jersey programs, including transit. In that sense, it is somewhat appropriate (though open to argument) that fares to New York should be higher.

    If one takes a look at intrastate bus and rail fares, one will see some of the lowest large transit system fares in the nation. (For example, look at the fares – bus and rail – between Long Branch and Asbury Park or fares on the Atlantic City Rail Line and River Line Light Rail service.

  3. Clark Morris | June 29, 2015 at 9:02 pm |

    The general fare increase will still mean that in most cases the taxpayer is paying more of the operating costs than the rider is. So far as I can tell the motorist is paying all of the operating and vehicle acquisition costs out of his or her pocket. I would like to see a breakdown of total costs for each that can confirm or deny this premise.

  4. I’ve just completed a three part analysis of the extent to which each state’s future has been sold out by state and local government debt, past capital construction (or the lack thereof), and public employee pension underfunding. And thus which states will far the worst in a future of ongoing tax cuts, public service cuts, and infrastructure deterioration. It is based on data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The first post, with the overall “sold out future ranking” and a spreadsheet with data for all states and NYC and the rest of NY State separately, is here.

    A more detailed post on state and local government debts and past capital construction expenditures is here.

    And a final post on public employee pensions is here.

    You can read the posts and look at the charts, but what I’d really like is for people to download the spreadsheet and look at the tables to see the data for all 50 states.

    And, in fact, the “download” tab includes far more data than is in the tables. For example I summarized capital construction expenditures from 1972 to 2012 for each state for “infrastructure” as a whole, but the database includes data for state highway and street construction, local highway and street construction, transit construction, airports and seaports separately. The data for any one of those topics could be downloaded for any of the 50 states and compared.

  5. Democrats in the state legislature wonder how to get more people out to the polls, trying to pass laws around election reform, but it’s this failure to work in the interests of their own base that keeps people at home. Why should people get out to vote when, no matter who’s in control, fares go up? If Prieto, Greenwald, Sweeney, and the rest of the Democratic group of legislators want people to come back to the polls, try standing up for those of us doing the right thing for the environment, the economy, and our regions by taking public transit.

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