The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com
The New Jersey State Assembly will “spend the coming months hosting hearings on the problems and concerns surrounding our bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and what it will take to meet our transportation needs,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced last week via an op-ed in The Record. But this is not going to be a “feel-good process done for appearances sakes,” said Speaker Prieto. “Nothing about our current state of transportation affairs should make anyone feel good.”
The problems surrounding the bankrupt TTF should be obvious enough to state legislators. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senator Paul Sarlo recently announced a tour of the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure that aims to draw Governor Christie’s attention to the need to resolve the funding crisis—as though the governor might somehow be unaware of that need. The real problem is that the political will required to address the issue is conspicuously lacking, even while the solutions for funding transportation infrastructure seem to be staring the legislature—and the governor—square in the face.
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New Jersey Democrats tried and failed to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Governor Chris Christie’s promise to veto any tax increases. So why hasn’t there been a serious attempt to raise the gas tax?
New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski, a proponent of raising the state’s gas tax, stated earlier this year that “until the governor shows a willingness to tackle the [transportation funding] problem it would be quixotic for Democrats to propose a tax that would face not only the governor’s veto, but his wrath as well.”
It’s a rational argument — why try when failure is certain? But the threat of the governor’s veto hasn’t stopped New Jersey Democrats from trying to advance other tax increases.
Governor Chris Christie has been very vocal about his determination to veto any tax increase that is sent to him, so it came as no surprise when he vetoed a tax increase on millionaires before signing the $32.5 billion state budget this week. What’s surprising is that legislators sent them to the governor anyway. In fact, Democrats in the legislature have tried on several occasions to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Christie’s inevitable veto.
So why have legislators stayed away from seeking a much-needed gas tax increase? It’s not as if legislators don’t realize the state has a transportation funding crisis.
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NJ Transit’s new Executive Director Ronnie Hakim has gotten off on the right foot by protecting bus and train riders from service cuts and fare hikes. In response to a Tri-State inquiry concerning the proposed $15 million cut to NJ Transit’s operating budget included in Governor Christie’s budget, Executive Director Hakim assured advocates that there [...]
NJ Transit says there won’t be any fare increases if the subsidy cut is approved. What riders don’t know is if there will be any service cuts. | Photo: AP
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced several budget cuts Wednesday aimed at plugging the Garden State’s $807 million budget deficit. Among the cuts was a $14.8 million cut to the subsidy the state provides to New Jersey Transit.
This $14.8 million represents just under 1 percent of NJT’s $1.9 billion operating budget, but it’s an operating budget that’s already substantially underfunded. Over the past three years, $1.16 billion ($363 million in FY2012, $397 million in FY2013 and $397 million in FY2014) has been transferred from NJT’s capital fund to meet the agency’s operating needs. That’s nothing to sneeze at: $1.16 billion is enough to fund the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension, replace the Portal Bridge or make a serious dent in the cost to build the Camden-Glassboro Light Rail project.
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New Jersey has dropped from 7th to 12th place in the League of American Bicyclists’ latest Bicycle Friendly States report — the Garden State’s lowest ranking in the seven years that the League has been publishing the annual report.
The League measures bicycle friendliness by awarding up to 100 points based on a number of key indicators, including infrastructure and funding that provide on-the-ground bicycle facilities; education and encouragement of programs that promote cycling; and passage and enforcement of laws that make it safe and comfortable for people of all ages to ride. New Jersey’s bicycle friendliness remained stagnant between this year and last, showing less than a half-point difference in total points from 2013 to 2014. But with other states’ point totals on the rise, New Jersey’s inaction caused its ranking to fall five slots.
In the 2014 Report Card for New Jersey, the League identified the lack of a safe passing law and a vulnerable user law as the state’s key shortcomings. Although New Jersey continues to be a national leader in passing Complete Streets policies at the municipal and county levels, it has yet to enact legislation that will better enforce reckless driving to protect pedestrians and bicyclists on the roadway.
The good news is that New Jersey legislators have already introduced bills this year focused on improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users:
- S231/A958 a vulnerable user bill, which increases penalties for motor vehicle violations resulting in serious bodily injury or death to pedestrians, cyclists, or highway workers
- A1591 which would increase penalties for careless driving when a violation results in injury or death to a pedestrian.
- A1600 which requires drivers to move over or slow down when approaching a bicyclist or pedestrian.
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