Legislature to investigate NJ Transit: ‘We need to start fixing this place’
TRENTON — A special state Senate committee was announced Tuesday that will investigate why NJ Transit continues to sputter and to develop an action plan to turn it around.
The committee will begin its work after the election and hold public hearings at train stations to hear directly from commuters. As an indication that it’s a priority, it’ll be chaired by Senate President Steve Sweeney – the first he has directly led in nearly 10 years.
“We need to start fixing this place. They’re talking about fare hikes with a system that’s not working properly,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
A multi-year budget NJ Transit provided the Legislature in April – before the Legislature increased the agency’s subsidy by $50 million – projected a $131 million budget deficit next year. Sweeney said the panel will try to identify a dedicated funding source that doesn’t involve commuters’ pockets.
“I can’t imagine going to a fare hike when the system’s running as poorly as it is,” Sweeney said.
The agency’s leaders say they can’t yet rule out a fare hike next year, which is the same language they used while preparing the current budget, which didn’t raise fares.
The special committee is the third the Legislature has created in the past year to either investigate or counteract priorities of the Murphy administration. The others looked into hiring practices, in the wake of rape allegations lodged by one campaign worker-turned-state employee against another, and the state’s business tax incentives.
Gov. Phil Murphy didn’t comment on the Legislature’s special committee at an economic speech in South Jersey, though he did say the state will get NJ Transit fixed – but that it’s not easy.
“Now am I proud of the progress? That’s a game of inches. That in football terms, you’re running off tackle three yards every day,” Murphy said.
Sweeney said it’s taking “way too long” and that better answers are needed.
“You can keep saying we’re better and it’s really working better, but if you talk to commuters, you know it’s not gotten any better,” Sweeney said. “And I'm not blaming this administration. There’s four or five administrations where they’ve short-funded this.”
In 2017, the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee held a half-dozen joint hearings that scrutinized NJ Transit and helped formulate reform legislation enacted last year.
In addition to Sweeney, the new special committee includes Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen; Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union; Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson; Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex; Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset; and Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic.