Originally published in New Jersey 101.5

TRENTON — In advance of Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget plan being proposed Tuesday, groups have begun publicly pressing for him to end longstanding budget practices that shortchange priorities.

Among the issues on that lengthy list are NJ Transit, which uses money from its capital program to pay operating costs, and the Board of Public Utilities clean-energy funds that are perennially diverted from their intended purpose to offset costs at NJT and elsewhere in state government.

A coalition of groups under the banner Jersey Renews said in a letter to Murphy that the clean energy funds collected from ratepayers on electric bills are supposed to pay for energy conservation and other green-energy initiatives. They say it’s time for a dedicated funding source to support NJ Transit instead.

“We understand this moment of the pandemic as a crisis and as an opportunity – an opportunity to reassess and redefine who we value and who we take care of as a state,” said Berenice Tompkins, the Jersey Renews campaign organizer.

“What we’re really talking about here is taking the clean energy funds and using them for their intended purposes,” said Debra Coyle McFadden, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council. “It almost feels like Groundhog Day – here we are again.”

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that “since the first raid” of clean energy funds a dozen years ago, the state has diverted $1.8 billion toward unintended uses.

“That means that people are paying more in their electric bills for colder homes and more air pollution,” Tittel said.

“You cannot morally justify taking ratepayer money from the Clean Energy Fund to plug a budget gap when ratepayers around the state have put their own hard-earned money into that fund to support a transition to a sustainable future,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith.

“We all know the science dictates that we only have nine years left to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis,” said Amy Goldsmith, executive director of Clean Water Action New Jersey. “And we’re wasting precious time when we take short-sighted budget decisions that divert money away from the long-term solution and doubles down on fossil fuels.”

Janna Chernetz, deputy director and director of New Jersey policy for Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said a dedicated funding source for NJ Transit is important so that its construction and maintenance dollars can go toward its five-year capital plan of needed projects.

“More capital investment means better service, affordable service, environmentally responsible service, creates new jobs and an overall better quality of life for all New Jersey residents,” Chernetz said.

Activists said Murphy had pledged as a candidate to end the fund diversions, which have been commonplace under Democratic and Republican administrations, but has instead only scaled them back.

“Bad policy knows no partisan bounds,” said Sue Altman, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. “Greed, corporate influence, short-term thinking knows no policy bounds.”