Our transportation system is something we mostly take for granted, unless we have to weave through construction on the interstate or get reminded of its importance when dodging potholes, as we have this spring.
But New Jersey’s transportation system is suffering a slow leak from inattention and threatens to become a flat tire under our current governor, unless we take some action.
I’ll say it simply. Without a solid, safe and reliable transportation system, we’ll suffer from permanent economic gridlock. Supply chain experts will confirm that a reliable transportation infrastructure is one of the three most important considerations for businesses when scouting a location. Inferior transportation choices and poor infrastructure translates into “no deal.”
Someone has to pay for all this, and the governor’s handling of the Transportation Trust Fund has been questionable. His five-year capital program will run out of money before the deadline, thus forcing New Jersey to incur more debt or look for another revenue source for the governor to tap. Unfortunately, where that is remains a mystery to all of us.
Governor Chris Christie has increased transportation debt by $1 billion more than expected during his first four budgets. In doing so, he’s set a record which is shameful, relying more heavily on funding the debt than any other administration in the three decades since Republican Gov. Thomas Kean launched the program.
Governor Christies’ overreliance on debts creates a crushing burden for the state’s taxpayers, now and in the future. New Jersey taxpayers will end up paying more for debt service than for actual infrastructure development. What makes this even more worrisome is that using debt to fund capital programs perpetuates a seemingly unending cycle of debt-service cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, we’re witnessing approximately a $75 million increase in the debt-service amount annually from the previous year because of this debt cycle. The bottom line? We’re funding the Transportation Trust Fund at higher levels each year, but rather than creating tangible improvement, we are simply paying for debt servicing rather than the need for critical infrastructure projects.
There is a potential solution that I believe has merit. I have authored a proposal, A2268, along with my colleague, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, which would establish a special nonlapsing, revolving fund with the New Jersey Environment Infrastructure Trust. We are calling it the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Program, and it would couple private capital in pension, private equity and other resources with public funds that could release capital in badly needed infrastructure projects.
This basic premise has worked before: President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s innovative approach in crafting the New Deal, which helped lead the nation out of the Great Depression, established the basic premise of the public-private partnership and was a huge success.
The phrase “Jersey Strong” has gained a certain resonance in the days following our rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. It’s a timely slogan, but in order for it to have meaning, we have to have a plan that will make the slogan a reality.
I believe the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Program is more than plugging a hole in our transportation shortcomings. It offers a realistic, sensible alternative to the current system that has a serious funding leak. Let me know what you think!