By Jack Ciattarelli
Governor Phil Murphy is at it again. This time it’s the Atlantic City Expressway and South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) toll hike hearings. I’ve said again and again since late February – the Governor’s intentional lack of transparency on this issue is offensive.
Back in mid-March, with residents adapting to social distancing and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, Governor Phil Murphy approved of Turnpike Commission public hearings to discuss proposed toll increases on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.
Around the state, government meetings were being postponed and businesses were being forced to close. Yet, the Governor approved of the hearings taking place despite an emerging life-and-death pandemic. It was outrageous and wrong. On March 18th, I called on the Governor to postpone the hearings, and today I am repeating that call.
Now, with the COVID-19 public health threat only more widespread, the Governor and his DOT Commissioner have approved that the SJTA proceed with its April 1st and 2nd hearings to discuss toll hikes on the Atlantic City Expressway. Making matters worse, according to news reports, SJTA Board Members were told not to comment on the matter publicly.
Like the March Turnpike Commission hearings, any and all citizens impacted by toll increases should have the ability to comment on them – publicly. What is Governor Murphy thinking? What is the rush? Like the plan to raise tolls on the Turnpike and Parkway, any plan to raise tolls on the AC Expressway by 37 percent deserves a full and complete public hearing.
As distracted and anxious as people are right now, suggesting that residents can participate in the hearings via emails and phone calls is disingenuous at best and, frankly, feels contrived. Until the Coronavirus pandemic is under control, and New Jerseyans are returning to work and school, the hearings should be postponed.
Moreover, President Trump’s announcement today that he will be pushing for a significant federal infrastructure investment plan as part of a continuing Coronavirus economic recovery effort, and Speaker Pelosi’s comments indicating that she hoped to be able to reach a bipartisan deal, is even further reason to postpone.
Republican legislators across the state who are now also sounding the alarm on this tone-deaf plan and its stunning lack of transparency are to be applauded. Kudos to Senator Holzapfel, Senator Brown, Senator O’Scanlon, Assemblywoman DiMaso, Assemblyman Scharfenberger, Assemblyman McGuckin, Assemblyman Catalano, Congressman Van Drew and others who are leading this fight.
Mind you, the opposition is not just from Republicans. The New Jersey Sierra Club and the National Motorists Association have also criticized the Murphy Administration’s lack of transparency and secretive process that seems hell bent on raising tolls without giving residents a fair opportunity to voice their opinion.
Governor Murphy needs to change course on this terribly flawed and dangerous anti-democratic process. He needs to exercise his authority to postpone the hearings.
JACK CIATTARELLI (R-16) is a businessman, former State Assemblyman, and Republican candidate for the 2021 gubernatorial nomination.