Weinberg: Budget deal that leaves out long-term funding for NJ Transit ‘mind-blowing’

06/21/2021 

Politico

For years, NJ Transit’s annual operations have been funded — and underfunded — with a patchwork of money pulled from the agency’s long-term infrastructure budget and from seemingly unrelated state programs. 

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A deal between Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders days ahead of New Jersey’s budget deadline includes no permanent funding source for NJ Transit, a development Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg called “mind-blowing.“

The Bergen County Democrat said she was so incensed that she may vote against the budget bill crafted by her Democratic colleagues. That would be an unwanted bit of intraparty budget battling in an election year.

For years, NJ Transit’s annual operations have been funded — and underfunded — with a patchwork of money pulled from the agency’s long-term infrastructure budget and from seemingly unrelated state programs.

A pair of budget resolutions this year backed by Weinberg, a longtime supporter of NJ Transit, were meant to end that arrangement. Neither notion made it into the budget that Murphy and Senate and Assembly leadership have agreed to.

Weinberg on Monday railed against Murphy for a “mind-blowing” deal that goes against “everything the governor said he stood for” on NJ Transit.

“It’s bad government, bad politics, bad for our future,” Weinberg told reporters after the Senate’s voting session.

Murphy has repeatedly promised to fix NJ Transit “if it kills me.”

Murphy's office argues it has put money toward NJ Transit after what it calls "decades of inaction and underfunding in Trenton."

"This year’s budget includes the lowest capital to operating transfer in 15 years while maintaining no fare hikes for the fourth consecutive year," Murphy spokesperson Michael Zhadanovsky said in a statement.

Background: NJ Transit lacks its own major source of money beyond fares, which paid for only about 40 percent of its operations even before the pandemic dramatically cut ridership.

For years, governors and lawmakers have raided NJ Transit’s construction budget to pay for the agency’s annual operations. Weinberg, who is retiring at the end of the year, said an influx of federal aid this year and the transit agency’s major infrastructure needs should justify an end to that haphazard funding plan.

NJ Transit has a five-year wish list of capital projects it’s already $5.8 billion short of being able to pay for. The wish list calls for track upgrades and new buses and trains.

Though Murphy touted his budget proposal this year as having the lowest transfer of capital infrastructure money to annual operations in years, his plan would still pull $360 million out of the agency’s capital budget to fund operations and redirect $82 million meant for other clean energy projects in the state to the NJ Transit‘s operations budget.

Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said failing to find money for the transit system this year would be a missed opportunity that could eventually result in fare increases or service cuts.

“The mantra for NJ Transit shouldn't be 'wait till next year,'" he said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-06-22 05:20:59 -0700