By David Cruz
They’re a coalition of 18 mostly liberal transit and environmental groups, in the waning days of the annual budget process, calling on the Legislature and the governor to restore funds for NJ Transit as a way to avoid a 9 percent fare hike and service cuts that they say will adversely affect their core constituencies.
“The only plan that this governor has is to make New Jersey pay more for less,” said Janna Chernetz, policy analyst with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “This is not indicative of a governor exercising fiscal responsibility, but a governor exercising fiscal recklessness.”
The group says that, since 2010 — the last time Transit raised its fares — the state has been raiding the agency’s budget to fund other priorities, including almost $6 billion in corporate subsidies (not to mention cuts to seniors and women’s health funding).
“[The state used] $200 million to move Prudential several blocks down the street in Newark,” noted Rob Duffy, director of policy and communications for NJ Working Families. “One hundred million dollars for Panasonic to move one train station away from Secaucus to Newark, $12.6 million to Citibank, even as it laid off hundreds of workers around the state.”
In 2009, the state had more than $300 million earmarked for NJ Transit operations. Funding in the next state budget — $33 million, which transit officials say is the main reason they are planning fare increases and service cuts. But Democrats, who control both houses and presented their own $35 billion budget Monday, also failed to fully fund the agency.
So, what does that say about the coalition’s partners in the Legislature? “I think it says that the legislative leadership is not standing up for commuters right now,” said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey. “This is the time, and they are absent.”
John Whiten, the deputy director of NJ Policy Perspective, said the New Jersey For Transit Coalition formed because mass transit has not been a priority in the public discourse, so “the legislative leadership feels like they can ignore it this budget cycle, let a fare increase and service cuts go through and there won’t be any repercussions. That’s why we’re here today, to say that we care and that there will be repercussions.”
What those would be was not made clear, but the old saying “with friends like these who needs enemies” might rightfully apply to earnest mass transit advocates relying on poll-watching pols to fight their battles.