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:
- Federal New Starts = $3.0 billion
- Federal American Recovery & Reinvestment Act= $0.130 billion
- Federal Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program & Federal Highway Administration(FHWA) = $1.320 billion
- Port Authority of New York and New Jersey= $3.0 billion
- New Jersey Turnpike Authority = $1.250 billion
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.
New Jerseyans are more concerned than ever about health care now that the GOP has taken steps to attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The ACA benefits everyone in New Jersey. First, think of those who didn’t have care who now do. 288,000 residents of New Jersey get care through the exchanges. Additionally, more than 500,000 mostly low-wage earners are covered through Medicaid expansion.
Those who already have medical insurance benefit, too. The ACA eliminates discrimination for pre-existing conditions; allows adult children up to age 26 to stay on a parents policy; and bans life time caps on insurance payouts, important for anyone facing a serious medical illness or accident. Additionally the amount of charity care that hospitals have had to provide has dramatically gone down, allowing for decrease of state and federal reimbursements of $373 million to these hospitals since 2014.
The plan released by the GOP, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) did not even make it to a vote, as representatives on both sides of the aisle recognized how problematic the bill was. But that does not mean that Republicans in Washington have completely abandoned their efforts to repeal an replace the ACA. Moving forward, the New Jersey Legislature will be the first firewall against any health care legislation coming out of Washington and Lisa, Richard and Tom will fight for affordable, universal health care for all our residents.
Of concern in this political climate is access to family planning at clinics like Planned Parenthood. These clinics offer women wellness exams, cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and access to birth control. In 2010, Governor Christie cut funding to family planning service providers like Planned Parenthood by $7.45 million, causing 6 centers to close, and others to decrease their hours of operation. The Republicans in Washington have consistently threatened to cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Centers like Planned Parenthood rely on federal funding for half of their budget
As pro-choice candidates, Lisa, Tom and Richard support all the services that Planned Parenthood offers, but wish to point out that federal and state funding go only to the 97% of non-abortion related care that Planned Parenthood provides (see graph below.) This is essential care for low-wage earners and the underserved population.
Lisa, Richard and Tom will vote in support of a budget which restores funding for family planning clinics.
(Source: Planned Parenthood 2013-14 annual report)