By Janna Chernetz, January 10, 2014
It’s not “Bridgegate.” It’s not cancelling
the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel. Governor Christie’s
biggest transportation failure to date is his failure to adequately fund
New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund, which was created in 1984 to
pay for transportation capital projects, is bankrupt. Since July 2011, 100 percent of
the New Jersey’s dedicated transportation revenue has gone toward debt
service. And neither the Governor, nor the state legislature, see this
as a big enough funding failure to pay any significant attention to it.
The five year (2011-2016), $8 billion transportation capital plan is
financed primarily through debt, along with funds that were originally earmarked for the ARC tunnel, which will run out in 2016. Although the Governor promised PAYGO
(“Pay As You Go”) funds in 2013 and 2014 to help finance projects,
those promises fell flat. Instead, PAYGO funds were used to plug a hole in the 2013 general fund resulting in a hole in the transportation capital plan that led to $261 million in new debt. In fiscal year 2014,
the planned $375 million in PAYGO was replaced with a one-time shot of
$250 million from higher than expected proceeds for previous years’
transportation bond sales and some crafty capital project planning. It
is still unclear how the remaining years (2015 and 2016) of the capital
plan will be financed without new revenue sources.
Meanwhile, next door in Pennsylvania, Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass
a transportation bill last year, financed with an increase in the gas
tax which will generate $2.3 billion annually for road, bridge and
transit projects. Now that is bi-partisanship to brag about.
Keystone State leaders last increased their gas tax in 2006. New Jersey’s last gas tax increase: 1988.
Governor Christie must lead on this issue, otherwise the state
legislature will not act. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Chairman of the
Assembly Transportation Committee, recently told
reporters that, “the gas tax is the most efficient and equitable way to
fund our transportation infrastructure,” and that “people are willing
to support the gas tax if they are confident it will be used for the
transportation work that’s needed.” But it’s unlikely Wisniewski and
other Democrats would take up this issue in the next legislative
session, fearing not only “the governor’s veto, but his wrath as well.”
Without immediate action — and with the obvious funding crisis looming
on the horizon — New Jersey will see no relief from continued
deteriorating bridges and roads, transit fare increases and traffic
congestion. For that, he owes all of New Jersey his biggest apology.