Chris Christie's biggest cop-out? Transportation | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on June 05, 2016

Welcome to Gov. Chris Christie's New Jersey -- the land of killer potholes, broken bridges, overcrowded trains and buses, and obscenely expensive tolls and fares.

If one failure of Christie's stands out after his two terms as governor, it must be this.

Christie promised a plan to permanently finance robust transportation projects during his 2009 campaign. Instead, he has borrowed enormous sums of money, and raided the billions set aside for a rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Now, as predicted, he's hit rock bottom. This summer, the bulldozers still at work will start powering down as the Transportation Trust Fund runs dry.

More fare hikes may be in store. Business and labor leaders say the state risks an economic "catastrophe" if this problem festers any longer. Not to mention the car crashes, the costly repairs, and the wasted time stuck in traffic that we are suffering through already.

What is the governor's answer to this crisis?

He says it's not his problem. He says that Democrats have to clean up his mess.

"The Democrats have put forward no plan," he says. "All they do is sit in budget hearings every day and say I should do it."

Well, yes. He is the governor, and he drives the agenda on nearly everything else.

Has Christie forgotten his own words on leadership?

"The rule for effective governance is simple," he once said. "It is one Ronald Reagan knew by heart. And one that he successfully employed with Social Security and the Cold War.

"When there is a problem, you fix it. That is the job you have been sent to do and you cannot wait for someone else to do it for you."

Why the switch? Because bloviating about leadership at the Reagan Library is easy. Real leadership is hard.

If you want to understand Christie's actions, look where his self-interest lies. It is a reliable guide, whether he is bashing public employees, endorsing Donald Trump, or punting on this very real problem.

Fixing the transportation system will require an increase in the gas tax. The reason Christie has let this problem fester is that his national ambitions might be threatened by his support for a tax increase of any kind.

We are no fans of tax hikes. And Christie deserves great credit for the work he did during his first two years in office to contain public spending.

But there comes a time when a tax increase is necessary. Christie is dead right when he praises Reagan's reform of Social Security in 1983. Does he not remember that the reform included a significant increase in the payroll tax?

Today in New Jersey, most business and labor leaders say the time has come, that we need a tax increase of some kind to cover these costs. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) have publically supported that, at their own political peril.

They understand Reagan's rule about leadership. Christie is the one who is hiding, suggesting even last week that it might not be necessary. His budget for next year includes only blank pages on this problem.

So what's your plan, governor? If you have a better idea, let's hear it. Time is up.

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