WHEN NEW Jersey gets the short end of the stick in a $1 billion federal grant competition to combat future storms, officials have to find out why.
Democrats, who control the Legislature, sought to do that last week with a committee hearing into why the state received only $15 million, the smallest of 13 grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to prepare for weather emergencies similar to Superstorm Sandy.
The state had sought $300 million, mostly to control flooding by building berms in the Meadowlands. In comparison with the $15 million awarded to New Jersey, New York City received a $176 million grant and Minot, N.D., a city of around 50,000, got $74.3 million.
Rather than testify before the committee, Christie administration officials and GOP legislators dismissed the proceedings as a political stunt and said the committee should seek answers from HUD. A spokeswoman for the Republican governor said HUD’s assessment of the state’s application was “questionable.”
The federal government is always an easy target, and HUD’s criteria may need examination. However, HUD officials already have said that the state’s application was lacking. In fact, Julian Castro, the HUD secretary, said last month that “New Jersey submitted a weaker application on several measures” and that its overall score was at the cutoff to receive funding.
Before questioning HUD, the administration should explain why it submitted the application it did.
On the surface, there are obvious concerns here. While Sandy devastated large swaths of Monmouth and Ocean counties, the state’s application for what is called the Meadowlands Regional Resilience Pilot Project focused primarily on Bergen County. Berm construction was projected to start along the Hackensack River near Route 80 and travel south to Route 3 and then a bit west to Route 17.
Oddly, the application also included a proposal for a bus depot in the Meadowlands area. The application suggests that more mass transit will be needed because the flood protection measures will spur economic revitalization. That may be true, but should a plan to build a bus station be part of an application seeking money to prevent flooding?
That’s something for the administration, not HUD, to explain.
And as a representative of an advocacy group founded by residents whose homes were damaged by Sandy told the committee, state officials also should explain why their application neglected to request funds for flood control for southern New Jersey.
Democrats are talking about using subpoena power to force administration officials to testify. That is certainly an option.
Yet there should be bipartisan unhappiness in Trenton that New Jersey’s grant was so meager. The HUD evaluation process may have been faulty, but before anyone blames the federal government, the public needs to know why the state made the application it did.
It should not take a subpoena for the administration to explain that. But if it does, so be it. An explanation is needed.