Thursday, October 28, 2010

What it means to govern

Politicians running for office like to say that they will make the tough choices. Governor Christie has just made a difficult one. Yesterday he announced that he was affirming his decision to cancel the proposed railroad tunnel under the Hudson River to New York City. He said he'd like the project for New Jersey, but the state just can't afford it. They'd be on the hook for all the cost overruns. And, as the WSJ points out, such overruns are very likely.
What are the chances that this project would have been completed on budget? Consider the history. Expected to cost less than $5 billion during initial planning, the price tag jumped to $7.6 billion amid environmental impact studies in 2005. By the fall of 2008, $8.7 billion was the working assumption—until last summer when the feds forecast at least $10.9 billion, and possibly as much as $13.7 billion. After Mr. Christie made it clear last month that he wanted to avoid the fiscal train wreck looming under the Hudson, the feds reduced their estimated costs to a range of $9.8 billion to $12.7 billion.

In any case, Garden State taxpayers would still have been on the hook as soon as the meter ran above $9.8 billion, which even the feds acknowledge was a 90% certainty. It's hard to blame Mr. Christie for sparing taxpayers from such a fate.
As expected, reactions to his announcement are falling along partisan lines with Democrats and union leaders blasting him and Republicans supporting him. New Jerseyites are starting to wonder, however, why their state would have to pick up the tab for the overruns instead of New York contributing. After all, those projected to use the tunnel would be coming into New York to win. Construction jobs on the tunnel would benefit New Yorkers as well as New Jersey workers.

Governor Christie has exercised judgment in rejecting a project that would endanger his state's fiscal health. There were benefits for his state, but the benefits don't outweigh the costs. And the state can't just keep putting itself into debt with promises to pay for future goodies out of future budgets that just won't have the money.
I cannot place upon the citizens of the State of New Jersey an open-ended letter of credit. And that’s what this project represents, because to sign the full funding agreement – and this is what I wanted to follow up with you on from my earlier comment - the full funding agreement requires two things: That the State of New Jersey shows the source of the revenue for any projected cost overruns and as Governor on behalf of the state, to accept full responsibility for the payment of anything above the $3 billion federal new starts grant. Nothing in the last two weeks has changed that, and so in the end what the proponents of this plan are asking me to do, on behalf of citizens of this state, is to hand them over a blank check. I simply will not do that to the people of the State of New Jersey.
To govern is to choose and Governor Christie has demonstrated that he's willing to make a very tough choice.