Spending Deal May Breathe New Life Into Gateway Rail Tunnel Project

The man who oversees the Gateway rail tunnel project says a major infrastructure venture tends to be a series of near-death experiences — and Gateway appears to have survived one of those brushes with extinction this week.

Despite efforts by President Trump to block federal funding for Gateway, a new link for trains under the Hudson River, the project could receive as much as $540 million from a spending bill Congress was hammering out on Wednesday, congressional aides said. That would be much less than the $900 million that previously had been intended for Gateway, but not the shutout that Mr. Trump had been pushing.

A leading regional infrastructure expert expressed relief. “The idea that there’s something like half a billion dollars in there for Gateway is a bright story about bipartisan leadership,” said Thomas K. Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association, which has advocated for Gateway as a critical bolster for the economy of the Northeast. “If they missed this, it would be at least a year and I’ve heard more like three years added to the project, which translates to billions in additional costs.”

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IF MURPHY HOLDS MUNICIPAL AID FLAT, CAN PROPERTY TAXES GO ANYWHERE BUT UP

COLLEEN O'DEA | MARCH 22, 2018

NJ Spotlight

New Jersey’s municipalities are being left out in the cold again by a state budget that seeks to freeze aid to towns at 2010 levels, leaving municipal officials with little choice but to increase property taxes to avoid cutting services.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget recommends no increase in aid to communities, keeping the level of municipal property-tax relief in the new fiscal year at $1.4 billion. That’s in sharp contrast to the 3 percent, or $283 million, hike in aid to schools that he proposed.

“This will be the eighth year of flat funding, following three years during which municipal property-tax relief funding was reduced by a total of $320 million,” said Jon Moran, senior legislative analyst with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. “Local budget-makers deserve a lot of credit for keeping property taxes as low as possible, while continuing to deliver quality services.”

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MURPHY ROLLS OUT SPENDING PRIORITIES FOR $242M INCREASE IN BUDGET FOR NJ TRANSIT

JOHN REITMEYER | MARCH 21, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Gov. Phil Murphy outlined increased spending for NJ Transit at a news conference at the train station in Madison yesterday.

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With a new governor comes a new set of spending priorities in Trenton, and for Democrat Phil Murphy, that means moving New Jersey Transit to the front of the line when it comes to the state budget.

Murphy is proposing a state sales-tax hike in the $37.4 billion fiscal year 2019 budget and is trying to impress upon the public that they will get value for that additional money. A $242 million increase in the budget for NJ Transit, he says, will help the state’s beleaguered rail and bus agency enhance service, improve facilities, and hire more staff. It will also stave off any immediate fare hikes for commuters. Despite service reductions, commuters endured two fare hikes under former Gov. Chris Christie.

A better-functioning mass-transit system is a “centerstage” piece of Murphy’s goal of getting the state economy back on firmer footing.

“We are committed to turning things around, and our budget proves our commitment to riders, and to the men and women who work hard every single day on their behalf,” Murphy said during a news conference at the NJ Transit train station in Madison yesterday.

“We are putting in the financial resources needed for the long-term,” he said.

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NJ’S TECH FUTURE BEGINS WITH NEW BRUNSWICK ‘HUB’ — MURPHY

JOHN REITMEYER | MARCH 20, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Gov. Phil Murphy, center, introduces his vision for an "innovation hub" in New Brunswick.

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Gov. Phil Murphy has sketched out a vision for a New Jersey economic rebirth that’s centered around innovation and technology, and yesterday the governor highlighted how a four-acre site near the main train station in New Brunswick could eventually play a key role in that effort.

Saying he wants to see an “innovation hub” take root in New Brunswick that could foster the development of startup companies tied to cutting-edge research, Murphy convened a meeting with local leaders, officials from Rutgers University, and nearby businesses, to set an agenda for his goal of redeveloping the site as part of his broader economic-development dream.

“This is a very significant opportunity,” Murphy said during the meeting held on the Rutgers University campus. “We’re not playing at the edges here.”

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THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS FROM HUNDREDS OF NJ SCHOOLS PROTEST GUN VIOLENCE

CARLY SITRIN | MARCH 15, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Students walking out at Hillsborough High School

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Thousands of students across New Jersey walked out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. yesterday to protest gun violence and call on legislators to enact stricter gun-control measures. And, as part of a highly coordinated effort, hundreds of social media-savvy teens worked tirelessly to amplify their message.

At each high school, students wore orange and left classes for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the lives lost in the shooting tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, in February. Some schools held a moment of silence, and others released balloons as the names of the victims were read aloud.

Speaking at a Paramus High School press event, Gov. Phil Murphy applauded the students’ efforts. “You are doing what our generation has failed to do. You are proving us to be inadequate and that’s the way it should be,” he said.

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MURPHY’S EDUCATION BUDGET: SOME PLEDGES REDEEMED, SOME DEFERRED

JOHN MOONEY | MARCH 14, 2018

NJ Spotlight

 

Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget for public education next year was as stark a departure from the past eight years as any topic he touched on yesterday.

There was no talk of school vouchers; charter schools got barely a mention; and there certainly were no examples of school overspending and waste. Murphy even extolled the virtues of labor unions.

Welcome to post-Christie education budgeting, with the new governor announcing he would increase aid to virtually all districts, move to expand preschool statewide, and start on the path to tuition-free community college.

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Murphy’s First Budget Is Focused on Progressive Policies and New Taxes

TRENTON — Gov. Philip D. Murphy unveiled his first budget proposal on Tuesday, a $34.7 billion spending plan that reads like a wish-list-come-true for his liberal base and reflects the progressive agenda he campaigned on, and that also seeks to bring relief to frustrated riders of New Jersey’s sputtering commuter rail.

The budget proposed by Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, would use tax increases and new taxes to generate $1.5 billion in revenue to help pay for his ambitious plan, which included restoring the earned-income tax credit, significantly increasing funding for schools, expanding preschool and making community colleges tuition free. He also wants New Jersey to join the growing ranks of states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

“For everyone who cares about common-sense gun safety laws, a 100-percent clean energy future, women’s health care, the rights of our L.G.B.T.Q. brothers and sisters, or immigration policies that are sensible, that allow diverse and safe cities to flourish, the pull of New Jersey will become inescapable,” Mr. Murphy said.

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Racial Justice Drives Fight for, and Against, Legal Pot in New Jersey

By KAREN ROUSE

THE NEW YORK TIMES

MARCH 11, 2018

State Senator Ronald L. Rice, a Democrat from Newark, believes efforts to legalize the recreational use of marijuana would enrich white entrepreneurs while creating problems in African-American neighborhoods.

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During his campaign for governor of New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, pledged to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, telling Democrats at a party conference last year in Atlantic City that creating a new tax revenue was not what was motivating him.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Hey, are you sure you can generate $300 million from the legalization of marijuana?” Mr. Murphy said, citing a figure that his campaign had trumpeted. “I say, ‘You know what, I’m not sure, but that’s not the question. We’re not doing it for the dollars. We’re doing it for social justice.’”

Mr. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African-Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is a main reason to legalize the drug, and he has the support of civil rights groups, cannabis business lobbyists, lawyers, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and out-of-state cannabis growers.

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Trump threatens to shut down government rather than fund Gateway tunnel

 

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the government rather than fund the Gateway Tunnel project, according to a published report.

Trump said he would veto legislation funding the government through Sept. 30 if it included money for a new tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan, according to Politico, which cited multiple sources.

Without a spending bill in place by March 23, federal agencies would be forced to close their doors for the third time under the Trump administration.

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MURPHY ADMINISTRATION MAKES FIRST MOVE TO PART WAYS WITH PARCC

JOHN MOONEY | MARCH 7, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Acting Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet

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Gov. Phil Murphy’s new education commissioner yesterday put out the first official word on what’s next with student testing in New Jersey: an advisory group and a listening tour.

Following through on Murphy’s pledge to end high-stakes PARCC testing, acting Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet informed districts that he would be forming an advisory group to study ideas for the next generation of testing, as well as a tour of every county to hear from students and teachers.

He indicated a review of graduation requirements tied to the testing would also be included in that review.

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