Transportation: The Game Board Upon Which Governor Christie’s Agenda Is Played

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

“Transportation is the game board upon which the economy is played.” – Former New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere.

Our transportation network is how we get to work. It’s how products are moved. It’s the backbone of the economy.

But Governor Christie doesn’t seem to think so. Throughout his tenure as governor, Christie has failed to make transportation a priority. He offered a five-year capital plan that resulted in adding $3 billion to the state’s debt, maintained a historically stagnant transportation investment, cancelled the ARC tunnel, and stood by while NJ Transit approved fare hikes and service cuts (while top talent bolted for the exits). And he did this all while failing to even acknowledge that his state even has a transportation crisis.

Transportation is a game board, but instead of propping up the Garden State economy, it’s where Governor Christie’s political agenda is played.

In the face of evidence that the Transportation Trust Fund was running dry Christie has continued to play political hot potato.Why? Because finding long-term, sustainable funding sources for transportation is nowhere on his gubernatorial list of to-dos.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto have both presented bill summaries that would increase annual transportation spending from the current $1.6 billion to $2 billion, which is about what the state would have spent if its annual investment were to keep up with inflation. However, New Jersey has been spending $1.6 billion each year since 2006.

Neither bill addresses NJ Transit’s operating budget, whose funding is tied to the political budget process year after year. NJT’s direct state subsidy has decreased drastically under Christie, forcing the agency to raid its capital budget. The state has also had to redirect toll revenue and Clean Energy Funding to pay for transit. These aren’t sustainable practices.

Another governor might see these myriad problems as an opportunity to bring about sweeping bipartisan transportation reform. But not Governor Christie. The only opportunity he sees is a way to advance tax cuts. He reiterated yesterday that if he doesn’t believe the bill represents “tax fairness” he will not sign it. It has nothing to do with whether the bill presents an adequate, sustainable funding source for the state’s transportation network.

The fiscal year ends in less than two weeks. By then, we’ll know what the legislature intends the TTF reauthorization to look like. That’s not a whole lot of time for both houses to review, approve and get a piece of legislation signed by the governor (or organize a veto override if it comes to that).

Christie has his game pieces all set up and is going in for the win. But in this case, when the governor wins, his state loses.

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