While legislative leaders and public transportation advocates have lined up behind an effort to establish a dedicated and recurring source of revenue for New Jersey Transit, Gov. Phil Murphy playing it close to the vest on the concept.
“We’ll take any good ideas,” the governor said at an unrelated news conference in Newark on Jan. 23. “I think stabilizing its funding is something that is a worthy endeavor. It’s something we think a whole lot about.”
Top lawmakers, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District – who chairs a committee examining the transit operator – have vowed to push for a dedicated source of funding.
NJ Transit has struggled with funding shortfalls and under the Murphy and Christie administrations relied on its capital budget – meant for longterm upgrades and expansions – for operating expenses.
As a result, much of NJ Transit’s facilities fell into disrepair over the past decade, leading to scores of delays and cancellations for commuters.
Sweeney said he hopes to come up with a funding proposal before Murphy presents his budget in March.
On Jan. 21, Murphy announced that the agency would not raise fares on its trains and buses for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on July 1. NJ Transit raised fares twice over eight years under Murphy’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Janet Chernetz, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, who was recently named to NJ Transit’s board of directors, noted that fares alone make up for roughly half of the agency’s budget.
But the governor said his administration has not entertained a dedicated revenue source because “we think what we got so far from the state side has, at least up until now, the increases that we’ve made have been historic, have been enough.”
He cautioned that “I don’t think we can continue to rely on that forever. And I’ll be darned if we’re going to make the commuter have to go back lugging the burden.”
Sweeney and other legislative leaders butted heads with the Murphy administration last summer over the size of the state’s contribution to NJ Transit, with lawmakers pushing for the agency to receive more taxpayer dollars than the administration initially sought.
Murphy ultimately signed a budget that included $50 million for the agency on top of the $25 million net increase he proposed last March.
“We’re going to continue to fund it aggressively on the state side, and we’ll continue to look at other alternatives,” the governor said.