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Breaking Up PA Would Solve Christie's Transportation Trust Fund Problem

But with soaring pension, retiree health benefits, and debt service costs, Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said there was no general revenue available for pay-as-you-go funding, and the Turnpike Authority money once again was used to cover NJ Transit operating costs that otherwise would have had to come from the general fund.

With the Turnpike toll money going into the general fund for the third year in a row, the state was forced to borrow an additional $261 million for the Transportation Trust Fund in FY13, $375 million extra this year, and $476 million more next year, bringing Christie’s total borrowing for TTF to more than $5.6 billion and pushing annual transportation interest costs well over $1.1 billion in next year’s state budget.

Even if the Christie administration was able to continue tapping the $324 million a year raised through New Jersey Turnpike toll increases originally earmarked for the ARC Tunnel for Fiscal Years 2017 to 2021, it is hard to see how that money could go into the Transportation Trust Fund because it will still be needed to cover New Jersey Transit operations – especially during FY17 and FY18, the final two years of the phase-in to required actuarial funding levels.

Christie already has come under criticism for increasing TTF debt levels, and his percentage of pay-as-you-go financing during his first four years was the lowest since the program was created under Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean in the mid-1980s.

In fact, transportation advocates have questioned whether Christie will be able to allocate the full $8 billion in transportation capital spending he promised in 2011, but Treasury spokesman Christopher Santarelli said the full amount would be appropriated by FY16.

With Christie himself warning that future state budgets will be tight, the ability to tap additional money from Port Authority revenues is the only option Christie has that does not require raising taxes, which would go against his mantra that “New Jersey doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”

“That’s what this Port Authority restructuring is all about,” said Doig. “All Christie wants is the ability to carve out more money for New Jersey projects and use it however he needs to, regardless of the region’s long-term transportation needs.”

Both Doig and Robins warned not only against any plan to split the Port Authority in two, but also against any reform proposal that would give governors more power over decision-making, including the proposal by Republican members of the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Investigation to require the governors of both states to sign off on all director-level appointees.

In the Beginning . . .

Doig said Christie and Cuomo should look at the history that led to the creation of the Port Authority before tearing it apart.

“The Port Authority was created in 1921 as an agency whose commissioners would be appointed not by local mayors, but by governors, in the hope that it would take short-term pressures off the agency,” Doig said. “Between 1924 and 1931, the Port Authority finished the Lincoln Tunnel, built the George Washington Bridge, and both the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island, and the Bayonne Bridge. It worked because it was a single coordinated agency with a regional mission.”

One of the great advantages of the Port Authority, Doig said, is that it runs all three airports – Newark Liberty in New Jersey and LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy in New York -- on a regional basis. “In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Airport Authority runs one airport and the Port of Oakland runs the other,” Doig said. “Because of regional competition, you can’t get a nonstop into Oakland even though two-thirds of the population lives on the Oakland and Berkeley side. It’s just inefficient. You have to go through San Francisco.”

Doig acknowledged that there have often been conflicts between New York and New Jersey over Port Authority priorities, with New York Govs. Averell Harriman in the 1950s and George Pataki in the 1990s complaining that too much money was going to the New Jersey port; Pataki held up dredging during the negotiations, Doig noted.

“In the entire history of the Port Authority, we have never had anything like the dysfunction of the past four years,” Doig said. “It would be a shame if those who caused that dysfunction were also responsible for destroying the agency itself.”

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