Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey exaggerated when he declared that unforeseen costs to the state were forcing him to cancel the new train tunnel planned to relieve congested routes across the Hudson River, according to a long-awaited report by independent Congressional investigators.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, to be released this week, found that while Mr. Christie said that state transportation officials had revised cost estimates for the tunnel to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, the range of estimates had in fact remained unchanged in the two years before he announced in 2010 that he was shutting down the project. And state transportation officials, the report says, had said the cost would be no more than $10 billion.
Mr. Christie also misstated New Jersey’s share of the costs: he said the state would pay 70 percent of the project; the report found that New Jersey was paying 14.4 percent. And while the governor said that an agreement with the federal government would require the state to pay all cost overruns, the report found that there was no final agreement, and that the federal government had made several offers to share those costs.
Canceling the tunnel, then the largest public works project in the nation, helped shape Mr. Christie’s profile as a rising Republican star, an enforcer of fiscal discipline in a country drunk on debt. But the report is likely to revive criticism that his decision, which he said was about “hard choices” in tough economic times, was more about avoiding the need to raise the state’s gasoline tax, which would have violated a campaign promise. The governor subsequently steered $4 billion earmarked for the tunnel to the state’s near-bankrupt transportation trust fund, traditionally financed by the gasoline tax.
On Tuesday, in a speech at a conference on taxes and the economy in Manhattan, Mr. Christie did not mention the report, but defended his decision to cancel the project, saying, “I refuse to compromise my principles.”
Clearly, honesty is not one of his principles. Kthug puts this into perspective:
But one thing to emphasize here is that this turns Christie’s whole narrative on its head. He poses as the tough guy willing to make hard choices to secure his state’s future. Instead, he turns out to be a guy willing to eat the state’s seed corn — as one of the critics quoted in the article says, to “cannibalize” a project essential to the state’s future — so as to secure a short-term political advantage.
This fits a broader pattern: in general, the politicians who make the loudest noise about taking care of future generations, taking the long view, etc., are the ones who are in fact most irresponsible about public investments, both in infrastructure and in human issues like child health and nutrition.