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Christie's Lack of Infrastructure Funding Costing Him Business Support at Home

Bridges are failing in the Garden State for lack of funds to repair them, No, they are not collapsing, but they are shutting down. Many, including the business community, blame the governor for failing to act.
June 1, 2015, 5am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has said little in recent months about roads and transit even as his own transportation commissioner, Jamie Fox, has forcefully called for revenue for the state’s depleted transportation trust fund," writes Emma G. Fitzsimmons of The New York Times. "Here in New Jersey, Mr. Fox has been sounding the alarm over the state’s aging infrastructure for months."

"Our bridges and roads are old, crumbling and getting worse every day,” Mr. Fox told state lawmakers in April. “We can no longer kick the can down the road.”

New Jersey's 14.5 cents per gallon gasoline tax is the main source of revenue for the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, though, like the Federal Highway Trust Fund, it is supplemented with other revenue. The excise tax was last raised in 1988, and is the nation's lowest after Alaska's, as of April 1, according to the American Petroleum Institute [PDF].  A 4-cent petroleum products tax was approved in 1990, notes Fitzsimmons.

As we noted in a February post on failing infrastructure in Prince George's County, Md., "(t)he New Jersey Department of Transportation has temporarily restricted traffic on five more bridges so far this month, as it continues an emergency repair program it launched in January after a safety review."

"Many blame Mr. Christie and his presidential ambitions for the lack of action this year on a long-term funding solution," writes Fitzsimmons. "Democratic leaders in the state have expressed support for raising the gas tax."

“Since the governor appears to intend to run for president, raising taxes of any kind is problematic, to put it mildly,” said David P. Redlawsk, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

Mr. Christie’s pledges not to raise taxes might win favor with Republicans in a presidential primary, but his stance on transportation funding has opened him to criticism at home with business groups. They say the state’s poor infrastructure has hurt its competitiveness with other states.

It's not just businesses that want better transportation infrastructure. Not only does the public want it, but they are willing to pay for it according to a "poll last month by Quinnipiac University: 50 percent would support an increase in the gas tax to pay for road improvements and mass transit, up from 35 percent in 2010," writes Fitzsimmons. 

New Jersey Transit Fare Hike

"New Jersey Transit has proposed raising fares by about 9 percent for its 915,000 daily riders," the last fare increase being five years ago, note Fitzsimmons.

New Jersey Transit has become more dependent on fares: They currently cover 47 percent of the budget, up from 40 percent a decade ago, said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for the agency. It has a budget shortfall because of rising costs, officials said, despite plans to increase state support by $22.1 million for the 2016 fiscal year.

Hudson River rail tunnel project

Fitzsimmons goes into some depth on Christie's decision to cancel the project known as Access to the Region's Core in October, 2010.

Money intended for the rail tunnel project was used to pay for major repairs to the Pulaski Skyway, between Newark and Jersey City, and related road projects. Last year, prosecutors and securities regulators began to investigate the decision to divert about $1.8 billion from the Port Authority to the state for those projects, possibly looking at whether bond holders were deceived.

Returning to the state Transportation Trust Fund, despite voters now supporting a gas tax increase, it appears 'unlikely' that the gas tax will be increased, according to a March Asbury Park Press article. The fund is so broke that "(b)eginning in July, all the money from the gas tax and other revenues that go into the trust fund will be needed to repay past borrowing," writes Michael Symons. In fact, it may not even be able make those repayments.

Larry Higgs of NJ Advance Media for writes that "the state Transportation Trust Fund faces a $70 million revenue shortfall just in the amount needed to pay off past debt."

As noted in a post about the first seven state gas tax increases this year, all but one being by Republican governors, critical elements are bipartisan cooperation and leadership from the governor. Until that happens in New Jersey, more bridges may be closing.

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Published on Thursday, May 28, 2015 in The New York Times - N.Y. / Region
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