TRENTON, N.J. — The two top party candidates running to succeed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are selling their candidacies as a sharp contrast with the two-term incumbent on transportation issues.
Democrat Phil Murphy has attacked rival Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as Christie’s top deputy who stood by his side when he canceled a key rail project in the region, and for cuts to the state’s subsidy of the commuter transit agency. He’s called for increasing funding, but hasn’t specified how he’d pay for it.
Guadagno points out that she’s differed with the Republican governor in private, but hasn’t detailed those differences, and promises to audit the state’s transportation system, suggesting that its operations could be improved.
The current tunnel project, known as Gateway, is the successor to the Access to the Region’s Core or ARC tunnel that Christie canceled in 2010, citing cost overruns. Gateway has broad support from both New Jersey and New York officials, and there’s agreement that costs will be split between the states and the federal government, but there’s no deal on what funding will be used or how it will be paid for.
New Jersey Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chairs the influential Appropriations Committee, has put forward a $900 million measure that could be used to start the Gateway project, but the total project price tag has been estimated at nearly $30 billion.
The Christie administration has raised fares twice and shored up NJ Transit’s operating budget over the years by using funds from sources beyond the general fund. He also slashed the state subsidy for NJ Transit to $33 million in fiscal year 2016, down from nearly $300 million before Christie took office. He raised it to $140 million in the current fiscal year, but it’s supplemented by funds from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the Clean Energy Fund.
The agency has also been the subject of safety and personnel investigations by the Democrat-led Legislature after last year’s fatal rail accident in Hoboken.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Both candidates have emphasized their differences from Christie on transportation. Murphy says he’s “wrecked” transit in the state. Guadagno says “it’s obvious New Jerseyans haven’t gotten their money’s worth.”
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and Obama administration ambassador to Germany, says he would work with the state’s congressional delegation to secure funding for the Gateway project and has made “rebuilding” NJ Transit a theme in his campaign. He regularly tries to link Guadagno to Christie’s record of shrinking the state’s subsidy of the agency.
As far as policy changes, he’s called for the appointment of an emergency manager at the agency to coordinate with Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He’s also said he wants to audit the agency, adopting what has been Guadagno’s central plan.
The two-term lieutenant governor, the state’s first, says she would undertake an audit of the agency. She also says she would implement a tax agreement with New York to capture tax dollars from that state’s residents. She has also called for getting the Gateway tunnel built, like Murphy, and called for expanding ferry service to New York. She also has said she wants to let commuters set aside money tax free for their travels.
WHAT THEY’RE NOT SAYING
It’s no surprise both candidates criticize Christie, given how unpopular he is in New Jersey. Casting his stewardship in a negative light is politically easy.
Murphy hasn’t said exactly how much he would increase the state subsidy to NJ Transit. In May, he said it’s a “multi-hundred-million-dollar proposition,” but he has also proposed other measures, including expanded pre-K, tuition-free community college and fully funding education and pensions, which will also strain the budget.
Guadagno has indicated that she’d take a different approach on NJ Transit than Christie, but has laid out few details, beyond the audit to indicate how her position would differ.
The Gateway Project has broad support, but neither candidate has specified how their potential administration would finance the state’s proposed share.
Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini
This is the fourth in an occasional series looking at issues ahead of the Nov. 7 election.
For more on the New Jersey governor’s race, go to https://apnews.com/tag/NewJerseyGovernor’sRace