And just like that, New Jersey finds itself lost at sea, and left to navigate the shoals of the state’s transportation funding crisis without leaders who really know the ropes.
New Jersey Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim will leave the agency to serve as President of New York City Transit, the MTA announced this morning. While her tenure at NJ Transit was brief — less than two years — it was a tumultuous one, marked by a nine percent fare increase, complaints about delays and declining levels of service. If she were to remain at NJ Transit, Hakim’s woes would have no doubt continued to swell: an expected $450 million operating budget gap now seems even more likely if an amendment that would redistribute transit funds from northeastern states to the rest of the country isn’t struck from the federal transportation bill.
Hakim isn’t the first to jump ship this fall. In October, NJ Transit’s Director of Trans-Hudson Project Planning Richard Andreski was hired by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to lead the department’s bureau of public transportation, and in the same month, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox announced his resignation.
Fox was a strong advocate for replenishing the state’s transportation trust fund from the start, but problems with the TTF’s solvency have grown deeper with each passing administration since it was created in 1984. Governor Christie’s 5-year capital program promised more reliance on cash and less on debt, but the failure to identify funding sources to support the program led the governor to take on more debt than can be bailed: debt payments are set to exceed current revenues through 2041. Now, the Transportation Trust Fund is officially broke as the remaining bonds from current authorization have been sold.
Fox wasn’t able to “secure a credible long-term solution for the Transportation Trust Fund within a year” as he had hoped to do. Now that Rick Hammer has taken the helm, it will be up to him to pick up where Fox left off and steer the TTF toward a more sustainable future. But he can’t do it without help from the crew in Trenton. The legislative session ends January 10, and time is running out to plan for FY2017 — especially since Governor Christie is expected to announce his budget in about four months. The lame duck period is the perfect time for the legislature to harden up and send a bill to the governor that restores solvency to the Transportation Trust Fund, identifies dedicated operating funds for NJ Transit and sets the Garden State back on the right course.