Christie confronted on tunnel plan at Moorestown meeting

At the Moorestown meeting, Gov. Christie told the audience, "I'm not having the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey pick up that tab" of billions in cost overruns for the project.
At the Moorestown meeting, Gov. Christie told the audience, "I'm not having the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey pick up that tab" of billions in cost overruns for the project.
Posted: October 29, 2010

One day after Gov. Christie followed through on plans to scuttle construction of a major rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York, a woman confronted him about the decision during a town-hall meeting in Moorestown.

"I reject your unwillingness to reconsider, because the tunnel is an investment," she said Thursday.

Christie, who had to interrupt the woman several times during the exchange to make himself heard, was clear: The state can't afford billions of dollars in projected cost overruns, and he won't raise taxes to offset the expense. He questioned why New Jersey was expected to foot so much of the bill, compared with New York and the federal government.

"I'm not having the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey pick up that tab," he said.

The financial concerns behind the tunnel decision gave the governor an opening to press his case for changing how New Jersey operates to the mostly friendly audience in the Moorestown Community House on East Main Street. The gathering was the 10th in a series of town hall meetings Christie has held around the state since May and the second in South Jersey.

As he often does, Christie painted a grim picture of a state crushed by high debt and taxes, and decades of fiscal mismanagement that made the tunnel project an impossibility.

Critics have said Christie's decision to shut down the tunnel construction, which began last year, would cost thousands of jobs, hurt the economy, and result in longer commutes.

The tunnel would have doubled rail access to New York City. It was initially projected to cost $8.7 billion, but federal transportation officials recently elevated the price tag to between $9.8 billion and $12.7 billion. The Christie administration estimated that cost overruns could reach $6 billion.

The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had committed $3 billion each, but New Jersey would have been responsible for additional costs.

Given that breakdown, Christie questioned why the Obama administration was pitching in 80 percent of a multibillion-dollar rail project in Florida.

"The problem is, I have to certify to the federal government that I have the money to pay for any overages that happen, and I don't have it," said Christie, who turned down an additional $358 million and other options offered by federal officials. The governor said it's time to improve the state's own roads and bridges.

Also at the event, Christie questioned why the Democratic-controlled Legislature had not made sufficient progress on his so-called tool kit to take pressure off property taxes. Lawmakers have not adopted the governor's most controversial proposals to cap arbitration awards and make sweeping changes to civil service.

And he accused the New Jersey Education Association union, a favorite target, of obstructing passage of his proposals to alter public education. Christie supports voucher scholarships to pay for children in poor-performing schools to attend class in other districts. He also wants to change how tenure is granted for teachers, institute merit pay, and have teachers contribute more to their health benefits.

"Until the Legislature stops being afraid of the teachers union, we're not going to get anything done," Christie said.


Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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