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John Petro

The ARC Tunnel

Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that he was pulling the state’s funding from the ARC tunnel project, killing the project. At a cost of $8.7 billion, the tunnels would have doubled the number of trains that could cross the Hudson River into Manhattan. It would have also led renewed economic growth in New Jersey, created 6,000 construction jobs, and significantly increased property values for homes and businesses near New Jersey Transit stations.

Even though New Jersey would have paid only one-third of the projected cost of the tunnel, Christie explained that he was fearful of cost overruns. But it seems the real culprit is something embedded deep into our modern American society: a hatred of all taxes, no matter what the purpose of those taxes.

Insiders familiar with the tunnel project and Christie’s decision point out that New Jersey’s transportation fund is due to run out of money next March. They speculate that the $2 billion that New Jersey had planned to spend on the ARC tunnel will be diverted to the transportation fund, which will pay for road and highway projects.

Christie has denied that the state’s nearly bankrupt transportation fund had anything to do with the decision to kill the tunnel, but this contradicts statements made by other government officials.

Meanwhile, the state gasoline tax, the source of transportation fund revenues, hasn’t been raised in New Jersey since 1988. Raising this tax would be the most sensible and responsible approach for keeping the transportation fund afloat. But Christie made his reputation on promises to cut taxes--not raise them--and to cut government spending.

Raising taxes has never been politically popular, but in today’s political environment even tax increases for the richest Americans has a narrow margin of support. Additional stimulus spending that would put Americans back to work, spur economic recovery, and create lasting infrastructure is widely distrusted. At the same time, government employees that provide vital services in communities across the country are routinely blamed for the country’s economic woes.

As Mark Lilla explains in the New York Review, these tendencies are attributable to traits that have become much stronger in Americans in recent decades: “Blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self.”

The collective is spurned for the individual. Government, unions, and great public works are all cast in unfavorable light. This is a shame, because what you are I can achieve as an individual is nowhere near as great as what we can achieve as a collective society.

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Oct 13, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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