Fiscal Responsibility and the State Budget


Many State Senators, Assemblymen and Assemblywomen like to portray themselves as fiscal conservatives and strong guardians of the public purse. However, their actions do not support those claims. In 2010 when Chris Christie was only a month or two in office, he canceled the ARC Tunnel a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan. The ARC Tunnel would have more than doubled the capacity of New Jersey Transit and Amtrak to send trains into Manhattan. Both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak were using their full capacity, and New Jersey Transit was using a number of stop gap measures to keep close to satisfying its ridership demands. (See more under Infrastructure.)

The ARC Tunnel was an 8.7 billion dollar project. The financing was almost entirely from the Federal Government and from quasi-public authorities like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. Here is the breakdown of the financing:

In canceling the project Chris Christie took on an obligation to pay the Federal Government back $600 million for work already done. However, he was able to redirect part of the Port Authority’s contribution to the tunnel to other bridge and tunnel projects in Hudson County, thereby avoiding bankrupting the Transportation Trust Fund for another 6 years. The New Jersey legislature went along with him in thereby trading the region’s future for a quick fix.

At the beginning of Christie’s second term environmentalists were rewarded for their efforts to hold Exxon Mobil Corporation responsible for contamination of 1,500 acres of wetlands around their Bayway refinery with a 9 billion dollar judgement requiring the company to clean up the site. The lawsuit was filed by the State DEP in 2004.

Just as the court was about to set terms for the settlement, Christie announced that a settlement had been reached between the state and Exxon Mobile. New Jersey settled for around $250 million, which matched closely to a budget gap. Exxon Mobile was left to its own discretion on how to clean up the site.

These examples are emblematic of how, under the guise of fiscal responsibility, the future of the state is being squandered. The current legislature barely raises a hand to question the budget process and what constitutes sound planning.