The front-running candidates to replace Gov. Chris Christie say they have solutions to cure the train pain suffered by New Jersey commuters this summer.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate, said she would seek to audit New Jersey Transit and other transportation agencies to find cash and resources that should be dedicated to making the trains run on time. She also favors requiring transportation employees to re-apply for their jobs if labor contracts permit.
“I would fire everybody who is there. Accept their resignations – all those we are allowed to - and ask them to re-apply for their jobs,” Guadagno said. “I think all of us can come up with an idea where we’ve said what are we paying for and why are they standing around?”
Phil Murphy, the Democrat, questioned how effective such an audit would be – especially since Guadagno and Christie have already had years to find efficiencies in Trenton and appoint key transportation personnel.
“The governor and the lieutenant governor have presided over those appointments in the state for seven and a half years,” Murphy said. “I’ll let them answer for that.”
Murphy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and investment banker, told the I-Team he would consider new taxes dedicated to mass transit in order to stabilize crumbling rail infrastructure. But he also suggested the working class should be shielded from any new taxes.
"You’ve got to look at every available alternative. Everything’s got to be on the table,” Murphy said. “But you have to abide by a tax fairness principle and the middle class has been hollowed out and beaten up."
When asked if she would consider a tax dedicated to funding trains, Guadagno bristled at the idea.
“If you want to find a distinction between myself and my opponent, that’s it,” Guadagno said. “I have pledged not to raise taxes on the most taxed people in this country.”
Though the pair of gubernatorial hopefuls differ on many transit related issues, one area of agreement is the idea of selling development rights for land adjacent to train stations. Both Guadagno and Murphy told the I-Team they believe needed revenue could be raised by building residential buildings and retail storefronts clustered around NJ Transit stations.
“They created an entire transit hub around New Brunswick through a private-public partnership that is explosive in terms of economic development and quality of life for the community,“ Guadagno said. “These kinds of things could be done all over the state and should be done.”
Murphy suggested NJ Transit could find much-needed cash by selling rights to build residential and retail development on its parking lots.
“A lot of the reason the development is held back is for parking spaces,” Murphy said.
“Millenials increasingly are not interested in driving a car. They want to walk to work or take commuter rail or a bus.”
Murphy and Guadagno also share support for the Gateway Project train tunnel under the Hudson River. The new tunnel would ease congestion for interstate and commuter trains crossing from New Jersey into New York’s Penn Station.
When asked whether Christie made a mistake in blocking the ARC tunnel project in 2010, Murphy said yes.
“He got it wrong at an Olympic level. I’m going to argue it could be the biggest public policy blunder in the modern history of this state.”
Guadagno said she’s not sure whether she would have made the same decision Christie did.
“Given what we know, it’s hard to say. Right now we know we need another tunnel, everybody knows that. But we could not have anticipated in 2010 Sandy, which took out a tunnel and half of Lower Manhattan. But I know now we need to plan for the worst.”