Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, fresh from a battle with fellow Republicans over federal funding for construction of The Gateway Tunnel, a critical rail link under the Hudson River, met exclusively with New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Cornerstone members in East Windsor on Sept. 22.
"We defeated attempts by people from the South, the 'Freedom Caucus,' to remove the funding" for the tunnel, said Frelinghuysen, who, as the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, is considered one of the most powerful members of Congress. Frelinghuysen's committee approved a $1.2 trillion spending plan, which then passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 14. It includes $900 million in transportation projects such as the Gateway Tunnel. "We got the job done," he said.
"Is the tunnel part of the president's plan?" Frelinghuysen asked. "We are going to make it part of the plan. It is absolutely essential."
The 11th District Congressman added, "U.S. Senators are lined up and down to support the project."
Federal funding for the tunnel is vital because New Jersey and New York alone cannot afford to finance the project, which not only includes construction of the tunnel under the Hudson but includes funds for repairs to existing century-old tunnels, which are deteriorating more rapidly after being flooded during Superstorm Sandy.
The new tunnel is expected to cost $11.1 billion, and the rehabilitation of existing tunnels another $1.8 billion, over 10 years.
"The infrastructure project is a campaign commitment by the president," Frelinghuysen said. But President Trump had proposed shutting off an important source of funding for Gateway by limiting the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program - also known as New Starts - to projects with contracts in place. Gateway is not yet at that stage.
Frelinghuysen believes the tunnel will get done for many reasons, mostly because "the nation's economy depends on the project," said the Congressman.
The Northeast Corridor region encompasses more than 50 million people from Washington D.C. to Boston and produces approximately $3 trillion in economic output, equal to 20 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product, he said. "Safe and reliable passenger rail travel through New Jersey and New York City is essential to that economic productivity."
Frelinghuysen said he would be discussing the issue further in an upcoming meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Health Care and Tax Reform
On the recently stalled Senate Republican proposal (the Graham-Cassidy bill) to repeal and replace Obamacare, Frelinghuysen indicated he could not have supported it. "It would not help New Jersey," Frelinghuysen said. "It was an alternative, but an unacceptable alternative to us."
As for efforts in Washington to reform the U.S. tax code, he said, "We have to get a tax package across the finish line." But Frelinghuysen added, "It would be catastrophic to New Jersey, New York, the Northeast and California to not allow (itemized) deductions."
Some details of a tax reform proposal were revealed Sept. 27, and they showed - at least for now - that itemized deductions for state and local taxes would be eliminated, while deductions in the areas of home ownership, retirement savings, charitable giving and higher education would be preserved.
Thank you to AT&T for sponsoring the event.
For photos from the event, click on an image below: