On Wednesday, a day after Governor Murphy’s Budget address, he took a short trip to Wood-Ridge to discuss the longer journey necessary to turn around NJ Transit. After years of rider frustrations with service cuts, fare hikes, and long delays, he promises even more help but realizes the agency still needs significant aid before it returns to full strength. He views this investment in transportation as a benefit to commuters, communities and the middle class.
Jerry Arroyo of the Amalgamated Transportation Union said, “I love what Phil is doing,” and that was seconded by the head of the union. Local Senator Paul Sarlo (also Mayor of Wood-Ridge) and Assemblymen Gary Schaer and Clinton Calabrese were strong supporters. Sarlo (also Budget/Appropriations Committee Chair) added that Murphy’s Budget Address was “a good day and a good way to start the process,” but he didn’t delve into the details. Schaer said Murphy was conservative in his budget, and added he strongly supports the governor’s Millionaires Tax to start at $1 million rather than the current $5 Million. Calabrese indicated transit is critical to the future of our children as “we are going to have to move away from single vehicles.”
In the cavernous NJ Transit Maintenance-of-Way repair facility (see photo above) the governor explains, “We will continue our progress, and for the second year in a row commuters will be spared a fare hike if the investment is passed by the Legislature.” His 2020 budget includes $407.5 million in General Fund support. He boasts the agency’s 2019 successes include completing the first phase of Positive Train Control (which was only 12 percent complete when Murphy took office), creating the Customer Experience Unit, and increasing hiring for essential positions like train engineers.
Former Governor Christie starved the agency of resources which (along with new federal regulations) explains why it will take time. The Christie Administration General Fund Subsidy Average (2011-2018) was $121.2 Million. Gov. Murphy’s 2019 budget increased the subsidy to $307.5 Million and for 2020 to $407.5 Million. NJ Transit’s total spending, adding in fares, grants-in-aid, and dedicated revenue for 2020 is budgeted at $2.4 Billion – a slight decrease from 2019 (2.5 Billion).
Murphy pointed out that while New Jersey is the 4th smallest state, it is the densest in America. He said education and transportation are his main ledger.
Responding to a question from reporter Michael Aron about legislature leadership’s rejection of the Millionaires tax proposal and about Murphy’s relationship with Sen. Sweeney, Murphy played down the matters and pointed to the 207 bills passed and signed. He favorably mentioned a breakfast he had on Sunday with Sweeney. Toward the end Murphy reiterated, “This is not ‘mission accomplished,’ it’s just starting.”