Christie Executive Order Puts General Funds into Play for TTF Projects

By David Cruz

The man who most famously declared “It’s not a crisis” about the state of New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure has now evidently decided that, yeah, it is a crisis. This week, with the Transportation Trust Fund out of money, the governor issued Executive Order 213, saying:

“No evident progress has been made by the Legislature to pass a single, viable bill to reauthorize the TTFA [Transportation Trust Fund Authority]. … Until they do so, the state must use money from the general fund for emergency road, bridge and mass transportation work.”

The governor signed an executive order that’s going to put a hole in the budget, admitted Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto today.

How big that hole is going to be is just about anybody’s guess. The governor’s order covers not only existing emergencies, but — given the state of our infrastructure — emergencies yet to come. It also makes dollars available for required matching of federal funds. So, now the infrastructure crisis is eating away at the general fund and the governor and Assembly speaker, who have a deal on the table, are waiting for the Senate president to get his house on board.

“I feel awful for them that the Senate has decided to put their own internal politics ahead of what’s good for the residents of the state, and the roads,” the governor said this week. “Remember something, I’m the first governor in 27 years to publicly say I was for a gas tax increase.”

And that’s about as much as Gov. Chris Christie is prepared to give, he said this week. The governor and the speaker agreed to raise the gas tax 23 cents a gallon in exchange for a 1 percent cut in the state sales tax. That’s tax fairness according to the governor. And the Assembly speaker agrees. But the Senate president won’t go for that deal. Costs too much, he says.

Meanwhile, “What we are creating right now is people on the unemployment line,” warned Prieto. “We’re getting rid of jobs and these jobs are at a critical point because it is the summer months, which is the good weather. That’s why I said we need to do this now because if we wait until November, as some have suggested, guess what? The bad weather is coming so then those jobs are not going to be able to start so those people are going to stay on the unemployment line longer.”

More than 30 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally unsound. Potholes are expanding. Workers are losing paychecks. And the governor, speaker and Senate president have no talks scheduled.

“Why should I have another meeting of all these people if, in fact, my hands were shaken in there by the people who supposedly make these decisions and then they didn’t deliver?” scoffed the governor.

It looks like everyone has finally come to terms with the fact that the crisis is at hand. The trick now, apparently, is to get them to all start to act like it, except with so many conflicting agendas in play, it seems unlikely that anyone will be willing, or able, to pull a rabbit out of their hat.