POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy touts importance of funding NJ Transit in budget news conference

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

For the second time in a week, this time in Rutherford, Gov. Phil Murphy went to a train station to make his case.

“You may be asking rightfully, ‘Hey Murph, another transit press conference, why?’ Well, there’s a reason we talk about it so much. There’s no clearer case or example of the damages of Christie-style budgeting than NJ Transit,” Murphy said.

Murphy said former Gov. Chris Christie had cut the state subsidy to NJ Transit by as much as 90 percent and it will take years to properly restore the system.

“We cannot turn this system around in one, or even two, or maybe even a few budget years. And we certainly can’t do it with a budget that falls short and puts these investments at risk the moment it would be signed,” Murphy said.

Murphy is locked in a showdown with the two legislative leaders over the next state budget. They all agree on the need for new spending on transit, schools, pensions and programs for the disadvantaged. They disagree on how to pay for it.

The Legislature passed a budget Thursday night that relies on the corporate business tax being temporarily hiked. The governor has spent three months pushing for a millionaire’s tax and a bump in the sales tax. Murphy says the budget the Legislature gave him is $855 million out of whack, and that he’s willing to line item veto that amount despite the pain that would cause.

“If I have to make the hard decisions and tough cuts, including regarding NJ Transit, to reach that point, I am absolutely prepared to do so,” Murphy said.

One of Murphy’s vocal supporters in the struggle, Chair of the NJ Amalgamated Transit Union Ray Greaves, says Murphy’s appointees to run the transit system offer the right tools.

“He needs more tools. He needs our tools in the Legislature to do their job. He needs our Democratic leadership to do their job. He needs Sen. Steve Sweeney to his job. He needs Assemblyman Coughlin to do his job,” Greaves said.

Murphy has vowed to veto the budget the Legislature gave him. He could line item veto $800 or so million, then sign the budget and avert a state government shutdown this Sunday. Or he could veto the budget outright and send it back to the Legislature, which could well trigger a shutdown. Murphy won’t publicly discuss his options.

“Until we break this crazed fever of kicking the can down the road, gimmicks, phantom revenues, phantom savings, all options are on the table, and sadly that includes shutting the state down. I had a call this morning on that topic as well. We are going to stand on the side of the 9 million residents in this state who are saying enough is enough is enough, and we will not relent until we get this fixed,” Murphy said.

Murphy sat down with legislative Democrats yesterday. Republicans say any tax hike is insane. We asked former Assembly Budget Chair Gary Schaer for his view.

“With the millionaire’s tax, is that a good thing? The answer is no. Is the corporate tax a good thing? The answer is no. But, and here is the main focus, we all agree that these items need to be funded. They need to be funded responsibly. You cannot continue to pile more and more and more debt,” Schaer said.

Both sides say they hope the showdown can be resolved before a shutdown.