Chris Christie Keeps Trying to Balance NJ’s Books on Backs of Transit Riders

Graph: Tri-State Transportation Campaign
That blue line is about to take another steep jump, but not the green one. Graph: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Governor Chris Christie has really made a mess of New Jersey’s transportation finances. Since 2011, the governor’s “flipping the couch cushions” strategy has resulted in the state amassing an additional $5.2 billion in debt.

New Jersey’s gas tax has not increased since the 1980s and is the second lowest in the nation. Without new revenue, predictably enough the state can’t balance the books. This budget session, New Jersey Transit is facing a $60 million shortfall, and transit riders will soon be paying more for less. The state has proposed a 9 percent fare increase on top of service reductions.

The refusal to raise the gas tax is a hallmark of Christie’s political strategy. A 2012 report from the federal Government Accountability Office concluded that Christie killed the ARC transit tunnel across the Hudson because he wanted to siphon the money off for highways without hiking the state’s gas tax.

While the gas tax hasn’t budged since 1988, New Jersey transit riders got stuck with a 25 percent bus fare hike and a 10 percent rail fare hike in 2010.

A recent poll of New Jersey voters found 50 percent favor raising the gas tax. But that hasn’t convinced Christie to face reality.

Without new revenue, the state may be forced to cancel previously authorized projects, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign warns. And soon, New Jersey won’t even be able to pay the bill on existing debts. Something’s got to give — raising fares and cutting service can’t paper over Christie’s transportation budget mistakes much longer.

  • Komanoff

    Bravo. I’d forgotten about the TSTC graphic. It’s really telling.

  • Daphna

    Correction: the 2010 NJ Transit rail fare hike was much more than 10% – it was 25% for peak fares and 50% increase for off-peak fares since off-peak fares were eliminated with that 2010 fare hike. Maybe monthly fares went up 10%, but single trip fares went up 25% for peak and 50% for off-peak. It was a huge hike. At the same time, Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo rushed to reduce proposed bridge and tunnel toll increases and made sure the proposed increases were lessened, were phased in over many years, and were fairly mild. This meant the plan for the 2nd Port Authority bus terminal in midtown Manhattan, which was needed since there are not enough gates for demand, had to be cancelled. Meanwhile Gov. Christie let this huge 25-50% increase on single rides on NJ Transit rail go in effect without any protest.

  • Larry Littlefield

    From 1990 to 2002, transit fares weren’t increased either. And I’ll bet there was little if any increase in tolls. There were huge cuts in what was paid, adjusted for inflation.

    You had the same thing in NYC, with the introduction of the Metrocard and fare discounts. The fare plunged relative to inflation.

    Ah the transit advocates were celebrating. So the debts and pension obligations were running up. It was a big game of chicken. Why put money in if no one else is? Someone else will lose in the end.

    Now we see the reality. The future is here. Everyone in NJ (and NYC) is screwed. But transit riders are apparently screwed the most. What does that say about 1990 to 2002?

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/chart-northeast-line.jpg

    Note all those years NJ had a tax burden, as a percent of its residents’ personal income, that was at or below the U.S. average. Even though the average place in the U.S. doesn’t have a huge transit system, or schools as good as NJ.

    How did those saints, heroes and geniuses accomplish this? They sold the future. Which no one had a problem with because it was the future. Except that now it is the present.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    But understand we are living the after effects of the Reagan years where we can have lower taxes and keep spending. What’s worse keep spending and have no money to pay for it or just keep spending, but at least pay for it (somewhat).

    Problem with both political parties is they seldom want to face down the hard issues, but kind find easy cuts like healthcare to the poor, just as long as it satisfies the majority of their voting constituencies.

    And woooh beyond any politician that actually suggests people may have to pay more for something!

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