Capital spending by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2021 could be cut by as much as a third under what agency executive director Rick Cotton calls “an austerity budget” proposed last week.
Repeating a 24-month, $3-billion revenue loss and potential project cuts noted in May as a result of pandemic-curbed rail, highway and air travel through March 2022, the authority plans across-the-board spending reductions to reach a total budget target of $7.3 billion, down 15% overall from 2020 levels.
The proposal calls for trimming $1.2 billion from the agency’s capital budget, compounding a $1-billion spending slowdown on construction during 2020. In a statement, Cotton said the resulting 2021 capital allocation of $2.4 billion “is simply not enough to deliver the rebuilding projects contemplated in our Capital Plan.”
No decisions have been made regarding which projects may be affected by the budget cutbacks, but Cotton says construction work already in progress will continue. That includes LaGuardia Airport’s $8-billion renovation and its new $2-billion AirTrain, which has yet to break ground, as well as construction of the new Terminal 1 at Newark Airport.
Further capital spending cuts could follow in 2022 should federal aid to cash-strapped transportation agencies fail to materialize, according to an agency statement. While Port Authority has not given up on efforts to secure some kind of federal stimulus from the current Congress or incoming Biden administration, the proposed 2021 budget assumes no such relief.
By allocating $3.3 billion to its 2021 operating budget, the authority hopes to maintain service at current levels through the year with no new toll or fee increases. This budget carries forward approximately $190 million of the cost reductions instituted in 2020, as well as a $27-million cut in property, facilities and equipment maintenance, reflecting what the agency calls “lower projected activity levels and multiple efficiency initiatives.”
The budget also calls for reducing the workforce by 626 positions, most via voluntary severance plans, retirements and ending time-limited assignments. The agency would also freeze hiring and reduce overtime by 15%.
Following a month-long public comment period, the authority’s Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider the proposed budget at its Dec. 17 meeting.