When does transportation funding really become a crisis in NJ?
On the February edition of "Ask the Governor," Gov. Chris Christie said refunding New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund was "not something to rush on or rush through" and added the TTF was "not in crisis at the moment." On Tuesday, state treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff agreed with the governor's assessment.
Christie has said the TTF is fully funded through June 30, 2016. In Sidamon-Eristoff's testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee, however, the treasurer indicated a crisis would kick in the day after that. Committee chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) asked Sidamon-Eristoff just how much money would be left in the TTF by that time, at the close of fiscal year 2016.
"There will be some cash balances still available at the end of the fiscal year, a modest amount compared to previous years," Sidamon-Eristoff said. "Our projection is, almost $60 million will be left as cash on hand as of the end of fiscal '16."
Noting that $60 million is obviously far less than $1.6 billion, Sarlo said lawmakers and the governor can't wait until July 1, 2016 to find a new source of funding for the TTF. He asked the treasurer by what point new revenue must be found.
"The sooner the better, from a management point of view, because the TTF supports multiyear programs," Sidamon-Eristoff said, "so the sooner we have our financing structure in place, the better."
Sidamon-Eristoff said the typical pattern for refunding the TTF in the past has been that legislation is considered in the fall and enacted sometime early the next year, in advance of the subsequent fiscal year. In New Jersey, fiscal years begin on July 1 and end on June 30. Compounding the problem is that Democrats on the budget committee don't believe Christie when he says the state is currently spending $1.6 billion a year on infrastructure matched by $1.6 billion in federal funds.
Part of that $1.6 billion includes repayment of a $241 million loan made previously to New Jersey Transit. Democrats are calling that recycled money, and not new funding. Sidamon-Eristoff insisted that a combination of existing funds, borrowing and the loan repayment brings the TTF to $1.6 billion, as the governor contended last Tuesday at a town hall meeting.
The Democrats said their math concluded that Christie is underfunding TTF road, bridge and mass transit projects by $175 million this budget year, and that he planned to cut promised transportation capital funding by about $125 million next year.