NJ Transit needs HEALS Act funding to stay solvent, Booker says

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Federal assistance for New Jersey Transit in the next COVID-19 congressional relief package is crucial for the largest statewide public transportation system’s financial health in 2021, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. told transportation advocates Tuesday.

Booker said during a virtual transit talk hosted by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign that the $1.5 billion NJ Transit received from the CARES Act approved in late March will only carry the agency through the remainder of 2020.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is fighting to include $1.2 billion of requested federal aid from New Jersey Transit in the next COVID-19 relief package.

The Democratic senator has been lobbying for the Republican-controlled Senate to include funding for mass transit agencies in its $1 trillion emergency relief package introduced late last month.

“Studies are showing that the top 10 transit agencies in the country that the CARES Act funds we were able to win through a lot of fighting and negotiation, will only keep them solvent for five, maybe eight more months,” Booker said. “That’s a cliff that would be catastrophic if we don’t find a way to get more fund.”

House Democrats proposed a $3 trillion stimulus plan in May that designated $15.75 billion for transit systems, but the Senate has yet has yet to include any transit funding in its proposed $1 trillion federal aid package called the HEALS Act. The American Public Transportation Association has lobbied Congress to include at least $32 billion in the next relief package for large public transit systems.

NJ Transit has requested $1.2 billion in the next aid package to combat passenger revenue losses from the virus. The agency is projecting a $2.6 billion budget deficit through the end of the next fiscal year in June 2021 with $1.07 billion in fare revenue losses over that period.

“With revenue from passenger fares in a free for all after ridership fell by 90%, New Jersey Transit like the sister agencies across the United States, desperately needs federal support to ensure its continued survival,” said Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Without federal help, our buses and commuter rail would be at risk of being decimated.”

Even prior to the pandemic, NJ Transit faced fiscal challenges stemming largely from declining state support for the past three decades. The agency has transferred $11 billion from its capital budget to cover operating expenses since the early 1990s including $460 million in the current fiscal year, according to Tri-State.

Booker stressed in addition to receiving necessary federal aid from Congress, that the outcome of this fall’s presidential election would also weigh heavily on NJ Transit’s fiscal future with Democratic candidate Joe Biden more likely to provide support than President Trump. He said Biden has indicated in “direct conversations” a commitment to investing in transportation infrastructure if elected.

“The outcome of the election is important about whether we are going to have leadership that is going to prioritize those major transit systems,” he said.

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