Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he plans to unveil a constitutionally dedicated source of funding for New Jersey Transit, one of the first major proposals from legislative leadership under the Murphy administration to bolster the agency’s finances.
The initiative comes less than two weeks before Gov. Phil Murphy presents his budget address for the coming year on Feb. 25. Murphy has remained cool about the plan from Sweeney, D-3rd District, but has nonetheless suggested that “we’ll take any good ideas.”
“I think stabilizing its funding is something that is a worthy endeavor. It’s something we think a whole lot about,” the governor said at a Newark press conference in January.
Speaking with reporters after a Monday afternoon voting session, Sweeney offered few details on the constitutional amendment, which would require a supermajority approval in both houses, and then need to go before voters as a ballot question; it would not need to win Murphy’s approval.
The beleaguered agency has repeatedly been hounded by delays, cancellations, overcrowded trains, breakdowns and unsafe riding conditions. Murphy and legislative leaders vowed to revamp NJ Transit, but the agency’s woes have boiled down to a shortage of money.
NJ Transit’s current budget relies on more than $460 million from capital funds – intended for upgrades and long-term projects – despite Murphy’s heavy criticisms of the same practice under the Christie administration, and pledges to end it. Sweeney said he wants to cut down on that as well.
State subsidies this year are $668 million.
Money should be restricted to transportation because you’ve seen what’s happened in transit, it’s been defunded for the past 20 years.
– Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Should the amendment pass, NJ Transit would be promised under the New Jersey constitution to receive a set amount of state dollars each year, which could not be diverted to plug holes elsewhere in the state budget.
The actual funding sources would not necessarily be decided via the constitutional amendment – just the legal protection of funding for NJ Transit.
“Money should be restricted to transportation because you’ve seen what’s happened in transit, it’s been defunded for the past 20 years,” Sweeney said.