Christie: NJ Transit Must Close Budget Gap Without Fare Hike

Gov. Chris Christie says a new fare hike for New Jersey Transit commuters won't be happening this year.

Christie spoke Wednesday on his regular radio interview show on 101.5 FM, and said despite a projected $57 million budget gap for NJ Transit, there won't be a fare increase.

"Absolutely, no fare hike," Christie said. "They'll do it. They'll do it. You know why? Because they have to."

Christie said that departments ask for more money in every budget to close gaps and that he tells them they have to find a way to close the gap.

"That happens every year. Every year New Jersey Transit cries they have a budget deficit," he said. "If I gave in to every department and agency that told me they had a deficit and they needed more money, the budget would be $40 billion."

Christie's 2017 budget proposal is $34.8 billion, above $33.8 billion in the current year.

The transit agency, which provides bus, light rail and rail services across the state, raised fares last year by about 9 percent because of a budget gap, even with internal cuts.

The Republican governor also reiterated that a recently reached deal with rail union workers wouldn't result in a fare hike until at least June 2017, when the next fiscal year ends. Christie said he couldn't predict now what would need to be decided next year.

The deal, announced earlier this month between the transit agency and its rail workers, averted a strike that would have thrown the commute into New York into chaos. It put to rest a dispute that has been percolating for nearly five years, when the last contract expired.

On Wednesday, Christie said the deal would result in about a 2.3 percent annual increase for workers, but when coupled with increased health benefit costs for workers, results in a 1.7 percent increase. He also said it included back pay to 2011.

The unions had been seeking a 2.9 percent annual wage increase over six years, plus an increase in health insurance payments from 1.8 percent to 2 percent of straight pay.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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