Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hard numbers offered for NJT job cuts, spending freeze

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New Jersey Transit Corp. said Wednesday it plans to cut at least 200 positions, both at the union and management level, implement an emergency spending freeze, reduce executive salaries by 5%, and cut contributions to employee 401(k) retirement accounts by a third.

The cutbacks seek to save more than $30 million, still far short of NJT’s $300 million budget gap, which Gov. Chris Christie says will require service cutbacks and fare hikes. Gov. Christie pledged not to raise taxes if elected.

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"Unfortunately, fare and service changes will have to be a part of NJ Transit’s overall response to this financial crisis," said NJT Executive Director James Weinstein. "I know this will be painful for our customers. I welcome their suggestions and ideas as well as those of the public."

In addition to the $300 million deficit, Christie has said he wants to withhold nearly $33 million in subsidies to the agency as a way to help close a $2.2 billion state budget gap Weinstein told unions last month the fare hikes could be as high as 30%, though some observers see a smaller increase coming. Any increase could be implemented as soon as May.

The 200 layoffs announced, roughly 2% of all NJT staff, is the most severe one-year worforce reduction in the corporation’s history. NJT spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett said "all of these (reductions) are being made with an eye on not compromising safety." Affected workers will be notified during the next several weeks, she said, and the layoffs take effect for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.