NJ: ‘Absolutely Mind-Blowing’ Funding for NJ Transit Not Increased in New State Budget, Says Top Dem

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State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, is pictured last year.
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Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Adva (TNS)

A dumbfounded Loretta Weinberg, one of New Jersey’s most senior lawmakers, said Monday it was “absolutely mind-boggling” and a case of “bad government.” a financial boost to NJ Transit despite a massive influx of tax revenue.

Weinberg, the state Senate majority leader, was so enraged that she wondered if she would even vote for the budget plan, which was negotiated – with little other drama – by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and other Democrats atop the state legislature in a big election year.

“It is extremely disappointing, it is short-sighted and it certainly does not keep the governor’s promise to fix NJ Transit,” Weinberg, D-Bergen, told reporters after a voting session in Trenton, referring to the way Murphy often said he’s’ I’ll fix NJ Transit, even ‘if it kills me’.

“Everyone has some of that money, and not putting NJ Transit is absolutely mind blowing,” she added. “This is bad government, bad policy, bad for our future – in case I haven’t said anything about how I really feel.”

New Jersey’s most recent budget is a relative scarcity, supported by a $ 4.1 billion tax windfall that contributed to a $ 10.1 billion surplus.

On Monday morning, Murphy and leading Democratic lawmakers announced a deal that would include a popular property tax relief program and extend tax breaks on earned income, children and dependents in New Jersey thanks to the influx income in the budget. Senate Democrats also announced that the budget will include a $ 6.9 billion contribution to the public pension fund next year and the set aside of $ 3.7 billion to pay off existing debts and avoid future loans.

For Weinberg, a seasoned lawmaker who will retire in January, improving NJ Transit has long been one of her top priorities. And the overhaul of its frequently criticized funding model would come at a price when it came out.

The state bus and train agency does not have a dedicated state revenue stream, deriving most of its revenue from fares, which are not enough to cover all operating expenses. Instead, NJ Transit for decades shifted money from its construction capital budget to pay for operating expenses. Weinberg lobbied to change that.

She noted on Monday that now was the right time to do so, not only because of the revenue infusion, but because New Jersey is receiving more than $ 2 billion in federal stimulus funds that will help NJ Transit survive. recover from losses in goodwill due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Weinberg lamented that the new budget proposal continues the transfer system, keeps the state subsidy relatively stable, and does not include a dedicated revenue stream to the agency.

“It was time to fund our infrastructure,” she said. “I don’t think NJ Transit is the only one who hasn’t reached the top. … Not having funded this, I can’t even explain it.

Murphy’s latest budget proposal would take $ 360 million from NJ Transit’s capital budget to fund operations, while redirecting $ 82 million earmarked for clean energy projects to the state to help fund the agency. transport.

When asked if she would ultimately vote for the state budget, Weinberg said, “I’m not sure until this is all sorted out.

“But I don’t think New Jersey Transit is the only one that hasn’t made it to the top,” she added. “Not having funded this, I can’t even explain it.”

Murphy’s office responded to Weinberg’s remarks on Monday by noting that “after decades of inaction and underfunding in Trenton,” the state budget proposal includes a credit of $ 2.65 billion, which is a 15% increase over the governor’s first stage budget three years ago. of the more than $ 2 billion in federal funding.

“This year’s budget includes the smallest transfer of capital to operations in 15 years, while maintaining no rate increases for the fourth year in a row,” added Murphy’s spokesman Michael Zhadanovsky.

A source in Murphy’s administration also said the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and NJ Transit are finalizing a deal to provide NJ Transit with a “dedicated and growing transfer” of up to $ 525 million up to fiscal year 2028 and annually thereafter until transfer. is completely phased out or NJ Transit’s revenues equal or exceed the agency’s operating budget.

The Democratic leadership of the state Senate declined to comment on Weinberg’s comments.

The budget proposal is expected to be officially presented later Monday. The Senate and Assembly committees are expected to discuss the plan in public hearings on Tuesday, while the entire Senate and Assembly – both Democratic-controlled – are expected to vote on the final bill on Thursday.

It comes as Murphy is running for a second term and all 120 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot in November.

NJ Advance Media editor Samantha Marcus contributed to this report.

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Brent Johnson can be contacted at [email protected]

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