Former PA Planning Director: TTF Needs Revenue Source

July 21, 2015 | Transportation

Rotting roads, crumbling bridges, threats of commuter calamities. All were depicted in a years-worth of dire warnings over the imminent insolvency of the Transportation Trust Fund. Then, quite suddenly, the fund to fix our aging infrastructure was solvent. Crisis averted? No one knows better than former Port Authority planning director and founding director of the Alan M. Vorhees Transportation Center Martin Robins. He told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the TTF needs some sort of revenue source like a gas tax.

Robins said the short-term fix raised questions. “Well it created some question about credibility, about the worries of the insolvency of the fund,” he said. “What was done was to cobble together a number of different funding sources and keep the transportation capital program rolling for one more year, barely.”

According to Robins, the fund has been in crisis before but the current problems have been the longest and most excruciating of all of the crises.

When asked how the state got into the current financial situation, Robins said that the fund was originally designed to be self replenishing. He said that over the years a number of steps had been taken by different governors — starting with Christine Todd Whitman — that created a reliance on bonding, that the debt service on those bonds was going to overwhelm the flow of revenue to pay the debt service.

“Although a number of steps were taken and we’ve been at this precipice a number of different times, we’re now at a point where nobody seems to have a solution and we’re really running out of money,” Robins said.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox has said that by the next fiscal year, the Transportation Trust Fund will run dry. Robins said that the way the fund will get replenished will be by creating revenue.

“Well obviously a major injection of revenue from a gasoline or related tax would do a great deal,” he said.

Robins said that some form of revenue similar to the gas tax would be necessary to fund the Transportation Trust Fund, otherwise, “There could be more smoke and mirrors, which I hope is not the case. It only will add to the debt service that New Jersey citizens have to pay,” he said.

NJ Transit has announced a 9 percent fare increase. Robins said that the worst has yet to come in terms of fare hikes. According to Robins, the hike and service cuts are bad on the capital side. On the operating budget, Robins says that he foresees a potential cataclysmic event in about 11 months from now — NJ Transit could lose or could be required to spend about $400 million more than it has resources for or will have resources for.

When asked why he foresees a potential cataclysmic event for NJ Transit, Robins said, “Because almost $300 million per year has been surreptitiously diverted from the Turnpike Authority into New Jersey Transit’s operating budget. Hardly anybody really understands that or knows it, but that possibility could run out, expire as of next June. In addition there are big labor contracts that are coming up and there’s no provision in New Jersey Transit’s operations to pay for the new rates and the retroactive rates because there are like four years of retro activity on the rail side and three on the bus side.”