NJ's Fiscal Crisis Could Railroad NJ Transit Riders

By Brian Thompson
|  Friday, Feb 12, 2010  |  Updated 10:40 AM EDT
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NJ's Fiscal Crisis Could Railroad NJ Transit Riders

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Get ready to feel the pain.

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It looks like bus, train and light rail riders in New Jersey will be called upon to help plug the gaping hole in New Jersey's budget.

That was one of the warnings from Governor Chris Christie as he declared "a fiscal state of emergency" before a joint session of the Legislature.

"New Jersey is in a state of financial crisis. Out state's budget has been left in a shambles," the republican said just 32 days after taking office from the man he defeated last fall, Democrat Jon Corzine.

And while Christie promised pain across the board, it appears riders of the largest statewide transit system in the nation will pay the most.

"I can barely afford the kid I got," said Shavon Walton of Camden, reacting to news that transit fares may have to go up. And when she was told motorists won't have to pay any more, for example with a higher gas tax, she said "That's not fair."

But Christie campaigned against a gas tax hike, not an increase in transit fares. And the executive order he signed calls for cutting a month and a half worth of state subsidy to the agency, to the tune of a little more than $32 million.

An agency spokeswoman admitted everything is on the table, including fare hikes and service cuts.

There are other cuts Christie is making to plug the hole in the current budget. Some are small, like reducing funding for summer programs for blind and visually impaired children.

And then there's one that's especially big. He will cut state aid payments to local school districts to the tune of $475 million. He does that by forcing school districts to spend most of their reserve funds, money kept in the bank for emergencies like extra snow plowing, or when a boiler blows up.

But he insisted, and longtime Long Branch School Superintendent Joe Ferraina agreed that there will be no cuts to teachers or programs for the rest of the school year. "It won't really affect us," said Ferraina.

Democrats, who control the Legislature, applauded politely during Christie's speech, but afterward were furious at his use of an executive order to trump budget spending they had approved last summer.

"this is not the way to govern a state," said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver(D-Essex). "We will legally explore our options."

Christie for his part warned of more pain to come when he presents next years budget on March 16th.

"The challenge next year will be even greater. The cuts likely will be even deeper," the Governor warned.

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