Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Christie's first traffic scandal

Ever since the Chris Christie bridge scandal created a a political shit storm, I've been thinking of his earlier, outrageous traffic related action: the cancellation of the train tunnel project between NY and NJ. Back in January, Michael Hiltzik remembered the same incident, and summed it up in this way:
It's proper now to recall an action Christie took in 2010 that he owned up to quite proudly. This was his unilateral torpedoing of a $9-billion federal-state project to build a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson. The project would have doubled capacity on the route -- a crucial improvement given forecasts of sharply rising ridership and the decrepitude of the existing tunnel. It was the largest public transit project at the time, and had already begun. Christie's refusal to approve his state's share killed it.
The cancellation made Christie a darling of the conservative budget-cutting movement, instantly raising his profile as a GOP up-and-comer. Two years later, he was still crowing about his courageous act before conservative audiences.
His depiction of the project was typically blustering and deceitful: "They want to build a tunnel to the basement of Macy’s, and stick the New Jersey taxpayers with a bill," he said. You'd think that was pretty funny, unless you were a New Jersey commuter who knew that the "basement of Macy's" in midtown Manhattan is actually Pennsylvania Station, where the commuter trains go.
By then, Christie's rationale for killing the tunnel had been exposed as a passel of lies. He had claimed that it would cost more than $14 billion, and that New Jersey would be on a "never-ending hook" for 70% of the cost. In fact, as the Government Accountability Office reported, $14 billion was the maximum estimate, and $10 billion the most likely final bill. And New Jersey's share was 14.4%, not 70%.
But the cancellation allowed Christie to divert the state's share of the tunnel budget to a state highway fund, which in turn allowed him to avoid raising the state gasoline tax -- already among the lowest in the nation -- by a few cents.
So here's the toll: Christie sacrificed the long-term welfare of his own citizens for short-term personal, political gain. He did so with bluster and deceit. Even after his own figures were exposed as bogus, he didn't hold a two-hour press conference to apologize and promise it wouldn't happen again. 
As it happened, Christie didn't have to hold a presser to apologize because, for reasons I cannot discern, this did not raise a ruckus. It should have. It has all the hallmarks of a ruckus-worthy scandal, as Hilzick points out. And as he correctly notes, it provides more context for the later bridgegate. The NJ legislative panel probing bridgegate also issued a subpoena for materials related to the tunnel decision.





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