March 6, 2023
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
New Jersey has a record $10 billion surplus, so it would be reasonable to ask why Gov. Murphy can’t fund NJ Transit’s operations without diverting $334 million from its capital budget – money that should be untouchable, because it is needed for new equipment and renovations. And given his extraordinary climate goals, it would also be reasonable to ask why he plans to filch another $70 million this year from the Clean Energy Fund to keep the trains and buses moving. But once again, his new fiscal budget, announced Tuesday, still features shell games. And while the administration has chosen budget week to underscore how NJ Transit has had a dedicated funding source for operations all along – even if nobody seemed to notice – it still begs the question: If the bedraggled agency is truly on stable financial footing, why does the governor continue to raid these other funds just to keep NJT humming?
There is no adequate answer to this, but five years of whingeing from the media and commuter advocates about the funding for NJ Transit operations is really just background noise, the governor’s team asserts. Transportation commissioner Dianne Gutierrez-Scaccetti says we should wise up to the fact that NJT will get a half-billion from all those tolls collected by the Turnpike Authority each year in perpetuity – mirabile dictu! – and people would know this if they just bothered to read the fine print of the agreement.
“It was really forward thinking on Gov. Murphy’s part to create a funding source that maintains transportation infrastructure in all of its modals going forward,” the commissioner tol
d Larry Higgs of NJ Advance Media. “Without the governor’s intestinal fortitude to make this happen, we’d be in a big pickle.”
It’s true that these raids on clean energy and capital are the lowest in 13 and 21 years, respectively, which is progress from the depredation of the Christie era. But we’re still having trouble recognizing Murphy’s astute foresight.