Trenton — As the official kick-off of the FY22 budget season approaches next week with the release of Gov. Murphy’s budget, Jersey Renews, a coalition of more than 65 faith, labor, community and environmental organizations, released a letter to Gov. Murphy urging the full funding for the New Jersey Clean Energy Fund, dedicated funding for NJ Transit and funding for green workforce development, during a virtual telepresser today. The letter was signed by more than 25 diverse organizations.
The coalition emphasized that COVID-19 brings new urgency to these issues, as essential workers continue to depend on public transit, low-income New Jerseyans struggle to afford their utility bills and many people remain un- or underemployed. Climate change and air pollution both intensify the public health risk of COVID-19. But although NJ Transit and Clean Energy Fund programs are needed now more than ever, the FY21 budget increased raids to the Clean Energy Fund and exposed the reliance of NJ Transit on dwindling ridership.
“Our state’s cities, our urban communities, need reliable, affordable mass transit. They need the state to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy cost relief for the overburdened. We call on the Governor to show his commitment to our cities by acting on these needs,” said Rev. Ronald Tuff, 2nd Vice Chair for the Black Issues Convention and the NJ Organizer for GreenFaith.
The letter acknowledged the fiscal uncertainty caused by the pandemic, but urged the Gov. Murphy to fulfill his commitments to end diversions and provide dedicated funding for transit straphangers: “We recognize you have inherited a fiscal mess aggravated by the pandemic, but between federal stimulus funds expected from the Biden Administration, Parkway and Turnpike toll increases, the COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act, the corporate incentives bill, increased revenue from the millionaire’s tax and other progressive revenue sources, there is a way to fully fund NJT and to end the raids on the Clean Energy Fund. Given your campaign promise to end these raids and the overlapping health, racial injustice and climate crises we face, this is the year to fulfill this promise.”
“The time to end the raids on the Clean Energy Fund and move forward on dedicated funding for NJ Transit is in this budget cycle – the clean energy economy and mass transit needs this investment more than ever before,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Clean Energy Fund diversions hamper the transition to clean energy and these raids won’t solve NJ Transit’s capital budget deficit. We urge Gov. Murphy to use the FY22 budget to fulfill his pledge to end these raids and move towards dedicated funding for NJ Transit.”
The FY22 budget is expected to be released this coming Tuesday, February 24, but the Governor has previously asked for an extension of the budget, which is a possibility because of the federal aid package.
“There is an opportunity now to fix NJ TRANSIT funding and put the agency on the right track to fiscal health,” said Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director & Director of NJ Policy for Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “NJ TRANSIT’s chronic underfunding is not only an impediment to the agency’s growth but directly affects the quality of life of NJ residents and it has hit our most vulnerable resident’s the hardest. COVID-19 highlighted the important role NJ TRANSIT plays in mobility for essential workers and the transit-dependent. More than 83,000 frontline workers rely on public transit for their commute. Of those workers, almost 63 percent are women and more than half are non-white. Identifying stable, reliable, and dedicated funding for the agency to keep service reliable and affordable and for critical capital investments in system resiliency and expansion.”
New Jersey Transit has faced a funding crisis for a generation, as its capital budget has been consistently mis-used to pay for operating expenses. The root of the crisis is that funding is overly dependent on the farebox and has no dedicated source of funding not immune to the budget cycle. That is the primary reason why we have seen five fare hikes in the last two decades, and the ongoing raids from the Clean Energy Fund.
“NJ Transit needs more funding so that they can purchase electric buses. We also need clean energy in Newark and throughout the state to reduce carbon emissions and stop building polluting facilities in Newark,” said Tanisha Garner, Ironbound Super Neighborhood Council President. “We need more dedicated funding for NJ Transit and the Clean Energy Fund to recover, create healthy communities, and protect New Jerseyans.”
Especially in the age of COVID, where ridership has plateaued at severely diminished levels for rail and only recovered half its passenger load for buses, NJT is facing an ongoing ridership crisis which can’t be solved with cuts and fare hikes. To avoid a death spiral for NJT’s service, there needs to be a dedicated infusion of state funds on an annual basis that will last much longer than any federal infusion of recovery funds. These funds should end the ongoing raids of NJT capital budget and the Clean Energy Fund and be modeled on the dedicated funding streams for every other major transit agency in America.
“The budget personifies the state’s moral compass. NJ Transit and the Clean Energy Fund cannot remain underfunded and achieve a different and more just outcome to the overlapping health, economic, racial justice and climate crises we face. Governor Murphy and the State Legislature must fight for and effectively utilize federal stimulus, toll hike revenue inappropriately slated for highway expansion, the COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act, increased revenue from the millionaire’s tax, corporate tax reform, and other progressive revenue sources to fast track a green energy and transportation path for the Garden State,” said Amy Goldsmith, Executive Director of Clean Water Action NJ
The Clean Energy Fund has yet to be made whole during the Murphy Administration and is too often seen as a rainy day fund for other state priorities including NJT and the General Fund. The CEF should receive $344 million per year from ratepayers and it is imperative that the money goes back to ratepayers in the form of cleaner electricity, lower electricity rates, and air pollution improvements.
“It is more urgent than ever that New Jersey invest in protecting the health of communities and workers. This includes safe, accessible, affordable mass transit and protection from air pollution and climate change, which pose the greatest risk to the communities and essential workers already hit hardest by the pandemic. We urge Gov. Murphy to seize this opportunity to build a budget that sets New Jersey on track for a just, green recovery by fully funding NJ Transit and the Clean Energy Fund,” said Sue Altman, Executive Director of the NJ Working Families Alliance.
In the past five years, an average of $135.9 million has been diverted from the CEF each year, with a diversion of more than $100 million in the 9-month FY21 budget signed into law this fall.
“After the health pandemic, New Jersey needs to have a green recovery. We need to promote and develop a green economy that includes green jobs while reducing climate change and pollution impacts. The best way to do that is to stop raiding the Clean Energy Fund. This fund is New Jersey’s biggest piggy bank with over a billion dollars diverted to plug holes in the general budget. Dedicating CEF funds things like energy efficiency will help create workforce training and job development. More importantly, it will help people in low- and moderate-income areas save money on their electric bills while reducing pollution,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “NJ Transit needs to stop using the capital budget to pay for operation and maintenance. The agency is robbing the future by paying for current needs. In order to help and expand our mass transit, we need a stable source of funding. With these two programs, we can move New Jersey forward when it comes to green jobs and green transportation.”
Between the FY20 and FY21 Clean Energy Fund budgets, we have seen a $78 million cut in funding for energy efficiency, most notably $15 million less for residential programs, $11 million less for low-income residential programs, and $21 million less for commercial and industrial programs. These cuts in such crucial areas have had widespread impacts on community members and businesses that desperately need short and long-term support to reduce energy burdens and monthly bills. We urge you to end these raids now and help us resolve these crises faster.
“The establishment of an Office of Climate Action and a New Jersey Council on the Green Economy sets us up in the right course. We look forward to the state budget prioritizing investments in transit, clean energy and workforce development. In the fight for environmental and economic justice, it is vital that we continue investing in these building blocks of our state’s future as we work to rebuild our economy and lives throughout and after the pandemic,” said Kevin Brown, State Director for 32 BJ SEIU.
Raids to the Clean Energy Fund also compromise the state’s commitment to a stronger and fairer New Jersey. The current program has minimal funding to promote clean energy workforce development, a critical part of building the green economy and to create an equitable COVID recovery.
“Clean energy workforce development through the Clean Energy Fund is the pathway to healthier communities and economic recovery. Expanding community, technical, and apprenticeship grant programs to communities that have paid the price for unhealthy policy will go beyond clearing the air for our children and theirs – it will provide opportunity and renewal in the wake of crisis,” said Andre Thomas, the Training Manager for Isles’ Center for Environment and Energy Training.
The initial $2.5 million investment in last year’s extended budget included a multitude of programs to expand and diversify the energy efficiency workforce including: 1) Workforce Development Grant Programs for NGOs, community groups, vo-tech schools, technical training facility, Labor Union Apprenticeship Programs, and colleges and universities; 2) Incentive-based mentoring and apprenticeship programs with contractors, 3) Enhanced incentives for hiring local contractors and 4) Support for minority, veteran, women and low-and-moderate-income owned businesses and contractors. We need to expand these programs and invest more in them using the dollars that are currently diverted.
“The Murphy Administration has prioritized combating climate change as was evident by yesterday’s announcement of creating an Office of Climate Action and Green Economy. We are asking to use Clean Energy Funds as they were intended including investing in work development in the clean energy sector and creating a dedicated funding source for NJ Transit. Let’s use every resource that is available to move NJ to a green economy that creates good family sustaining union jobs and is good for the environment,” said Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director, NJ Work Environment Council.
It is critical that the Clean Energy Fund is protected in FY22, as it offers a wide range of programs to reduce air pollution, develop clean and renewable sources of energy, and create good, family sustaining jobs (and especially because there are a number of new proposals to allocate funding). This is especially imperative in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with health risk directly correlated to air pollution exposure, which consistently falls along lines of race and class, meaning that raids to the Clean Energy Fund do further damage in the most overburdened communities.
“New Jersey has a rare opportunity right now to reassess what we value and who we care for as a state,” said Berenice Tompkins, Jersey Renews campaign organizer. “We can decide to put people to work making our communities greener and healthier, to pay them well, to ensure that our neighbors aren’t forced to choose between basic needs like electricity, heat and transportation, to make sure that the new green industries coming to our state include and uplift everyone. The budget is where those decisions are really made — where we have the opportunity to show what and who we choose to value and protect.”
Signers of the letter included 26 organizations: Jersey Renews, NJ Work Environment Council, Environment New Jersey, GreenFaith, Clean Water Action NJ, NJ Sierra Club, USW District 4, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Isles, Black Issues Convention, Anti-Poverty Network, SEIU 32 BJ, NJ Working Families Alliance, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ Citizen Action, BlueWave NJ, Regional Plan Association, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, UFCW Local 152, NJ State Industrial Union Council, Vote Solar, NJ Sustainable Business Council, NJ Public Interest Research Group, UU Faith Action, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War and the NJ Student Sustainability Coalition.
“Budgets are moral documents, and establishing a secure funding for NJ Transit, and ending the misappropriation of funds from New Jerseyans’ Clean Energy Fund are both moral priorities in the fight for climate justice,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director, GreenFaith.
Jersey Renews is a broad-based coalition of more than 65 labor, faith, community, and environmental organizations urging our elected officials to act now. We want environmental justice, clean renewable energy, good jobs, and protections for workers & communities. www.jerseyrenews.org