Home>Feature>Murphy downplays knowledge of toll increase, but his staff briefed unions on plan

Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address in January 2020. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy downplays knowledge of toll increase, but his staff briefed unions on plan

Governor to press: ‘I’ve read the same stories you have’

By David Wildstein, February 26 2020 3:17 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy said he didn’t know the details of proposed toll increases at the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway before reading about it following his budget address, but senior administration officials and the state transportation commissioner briefed several outside stakeholders about the plan on Monday, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Murphy was in his office just a few feet away when chief of staff George Helmy and commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti met with building trade union leaders and the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association to discus a plan could lead to a toll increase.

“I’ve read the same stories you have about the Turnpike (Authority) holding hearings,” Murphy said at a press availability after announcing a plan to fund two years of in-state college tuition.  “I know about as much, probably, as you do in terms of what I’ve read here.”

Administration sources told the Globe that Murphy was referring to the lack of any specific numbers at this point, not that he was unaware of the authority calling for public hearings that might lead to a toll hike.

Murphy was not in the room for the stakeholder meetings, sources who attended the briefing confirmed.

Some unions were briefed last Friday, sources confirmed to the Globe.

The Star-Ledger, the only newspaper that covered a Turnpike Authority meeting that occurred while Murphy was delivering his annual budget address, reported that the plan was a “last-minute addition” to the agenda.

Murphy said he has a “strong preference for having transportation dollars funding transportation projects.”

“Just because it may complicated or somewhat unpopular is not a reason enough not to give it full consideration,” the governor said.  “I want to see what the plan looks like, and at the end of the day I reserve the right to either pull it back entirely or pull it back in part, and it’s too early to judge any of that.”

This kind of scenario has played out in the past.

In 2011, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed a massive toll and fare increase as a predetermined strategy that allowed Gov. Chris Christie to feign shock and outrage.

Christie, who was the architect of the strategy, eventually demanded that the increase be cut in half in a bid to score political points.

Editor’s note: As a matter of full disclosure, this reporter, then an executive at the PANYNJ, attended the meeting with Christie prior to the toll and fare increase announcement and participated in a briefing with the governor.  It was Christie’s proposal to double the number so that he could order it reduced at a later date.

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