New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Advocacy News
A TAX IS A TAX IS A TAX:Chris Christie Versus People With Disabilities And Many OthersEthan B. EllisNew Jersey Transit has announced a 25% increase in fares and drastic cuts in services, eliminating some lines entirely, effective May 1. Mandated by a $300 million cut in its operating budget ordered by Governor Christie on February 11, these changes amount to an increase in how much people will pay to their state government.That’s usually called a tax. Christie, who promised not to raise taxes when he ran for governor and still promises he wont, may call it something else, but a tax is a tax is a tax. Period.This tax will fall on people who are poor, have disabilities or are middleclass, the ones who have to use public transportation, not on the governor’s friends who use their Lexuses or limousines or liveried chauffeurs to go to their banks and country clubs. He’s giving those friends a tax cut worth $1 BILLION, enough to fill the hole he tore in NJ Transit’s current budget more than three times over.That should surprise no one. The cuts he made to balance this year’s budget and to make next year’s come out even mostly favor the rich at the expense of the poor and middleclass.What may surprise even him is that those fare increases and cuts in service will hurt people with disabilities more than anybody else. The average person with a disability is poor, with an income of under $18,000 a year, so the fare increases will hurt.But that’s the least of the hurt.Most people with disabilities use public transportation because they can’t drive. It’s the only way they can go to work; get to the doctor or to other services their lives depend on. On the 32 bus lines that are being eliminated, they will be out of luck. Some will lose their jobs; others will die.But it’s even worse for those who can’t use public transportation because their disabilities are more limiting. Here’s why.Today, if they live a half mile on either side of a bus or train route, they get door-to-door transportation in accessible vehicles by Access Link, a service that federal law requires NJ Transit to provide. When a NJ Transit route goes away, Access Link goes away, too, and they are imprisoned in their own homes.For example, thirty of my friends with significant disabilities live at Operation Life in Long Branch. There’s only one bus line between Long Branch and Freehold, the county seat where its official business is conducted and most county and state services have their offices. That line is slated to be discontinued so they and 6,000 other people with disabilities in Long Branch, plus countless others along that route won’t have access to the services they need.I could go on. Rush-hour service on many train and bus routes is being cut back, sometimes drastically. Each bus and train has a limited number of spaces reserved for people with disabilities. As commutes get more crowded when services shrink, we will have to compete, not only with each other, but with thousands of other commuters who will no longer have a place to sit or stand.On April 14, the NJ Transit Board of Directors meets to rubber-stamp these changes.Governor Christie is a member of the Board. He prides himself on being a tough-talking, tough-acting guy from Jersey. I’m from Jersey, too – for 76 years now. I challenge him to show up and explain this injustice, this broken promise not to raise taxes, this broken promise to protect New Jersey’s most vulnerable.I’ll be there. So will many other New Jersey citizens, with or without disabilities, who are unfairly hurt by these tax hikes and service cuts. If you are one of us, be there, too.Let’s see if Christie will show up to look us in the eye and explain his broken promises. Together, let’s make him keep them. Together, let’s stop this Robin Hood in reverse from robbing us to give to the rich.
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