What will changes in Congress mean for Gateway Tunnel funding?
NEWARK – It remains to be seen what the new balance of power in Congress will yield – investigations of the president by House Democrats, or efforts at bipartisan progress where it can be found.
One area of possible common ground New Jersey will watch closely is infrastructure spending. Gov. Phil Murphy hopes the Democrats’ takeover of the House has a positive impact on federal funding for the Gateway Tunnel, which would preserve and eventually expand train service under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York.
Murphy said he has only spoken with President Donald Trump a few times, always about Gateway Tunnel funding, so doesn’t know if the changes in Congress make a deal on infrastructure more likely.
“I’m told by folks who know him a lot better than I do – and this is speculation, so this is not my opinion – that he plays the hand that he’s been dealt,” Murphy said at a news conference at the Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church, after thanking members of the congregation for the election turnout.
“And if you believe that and there’s more checks and balances from the House, maybe he has a different impulse on Gateway,” Murphy said. “I hope he does. I remain optimistic.”
At a White House press conference Wednesday, Trump said he could work with Democrats on infrastructure, prescription drug prices and other issues.
Trump at one point indicated support for the Gateway project, then reversed course. Despite that opposition, Congress has appropriated some money that could go to the Gateway Tunnel because U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of Morris County included it as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Murphy said Frelinghuysen had been outstanding on Gateway funding – but he’s retiring. Republicans will no longer control Congress, anyway. Once Democrats take over, the new chair of the Appropriations Committee will be U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, of New York.
“The New York and New Jersey delegations are locked in together on Gateway, so I think that’s probably a good thing,” Murphy said. “If it wasn’t going to be a New Jersey representative, having somebody from New York is a good thing.”
New Jersey loses some clout in the next Congress with Frelinghuysen’s departure, but Murphy believes the state will still have a lot of influence.
“I think this will be even more powerful,” Murphy said. “You’ll have Frank Pallone, among other things, as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is among the most powerful in the country. It includes all things health care. That’s a big deal in and of itself.”
Murphy said that having a 10-2 or 11-1 Democratic majority in New Jersey’s House delegation – the latter will depend who wins the not-yet-called race between U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur and Andy Kim – could also prove to be a good formula for getting Gateway Tunnel funding to be a priority.