How Murphy would use his budget to begin a New Jersey Transit turnaround
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wants his first budget proposal to begin a turnaround for the state’s mass transit system.
The new Democratic governor proposes an additional $242 million for New Jersey Transit as part of his $37.4 billion budget plan to stabilize the agency’s finances. He said Tuesday while outlining his plans for NJ Transit that most of the extra funding will close budget shortfalls created under predecessor Chris Christie.
“One hundred and forty eight million dollars will go toward putting New Jersey Transit’s finances back on a firm foundation for corrective measures to fix structural shortfalls and decrease reliance on one-shot sources of revenues,” said Murphy during a press conference held at the NJ Transit station in Madison. “The past eight years we have taken from various other sources with one-shot gimmicks to fund the system. Those days are over.”
Murphy is also proposing $21 million to upgrade NJ Transit train and bus facilities and $19 million to hire new staff. He also wants to dedicate $4 million to expand bus and rail service from New York into the Meadowlands station in anticipation of the new American Dream mall.
Murphy, who mandated an audit of NJ Transit in January, said state support for the nation’s third-busiest public transportation rail system has dropped sharply in the last decade, going from $348 million in the 2009 fiscal year under former Gov. Jon Corzine to $141 million in the current budget. A September 2017 report by the Fund for New Jersey said NJ Transit received $204 million from New Jersey Turnpike tolls for the 2018 fiscal year to address part of its operating deficit.
“They took money from the capital budget and plugged up operating holes,” said Murphy, who is proposing dedicating $120 million in his budget to replace non-recurring funding sources and “one shots” he says Christie relied on to support the system’s operations. “They diverted enormous amounts of money out of the Turnpike Authority.”
Murphy said Tuesday there will be no fare increase for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The agency last raised fares 9% for the 2016 fiscal year to tackle a $56 million budget gap.
“What Murphy has done is putting New Jersey Transit on track in terms of being an active participant in the general fund,” said Martin Robins, director emeritus of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “Christie had destabilized the funding and it really put them in a very difficult situation as every year they would budget but they didn’t know where the money was coming from.”
NJ Transit experienced falling ridership numbers in 2016 and refinanced outstanding revenue bonds early last year through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to combat a $12 million hole created by the lost revenue. Murphy said Tuesday his NJ Transit budget includes $28 million to correct structural passenger revenue shortfalls caused by “unrealistic” assumptions.