THE NEW JER­SEY TURN­PIKE AUTHOR­ITY

The Bond Buyer - - Front Page - By an­dreW coen

per­se­vered through the re­ces­sion’s de­clin­ing toll rev­enues to be in a healthy fis­cal po­si­tion a decade later, ac­cord­ing to the trans­porta­tion agency’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer . . . . . .

“When I look at where we are to­day, we are so much stronger,” said Donna Manuelli, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of the New Jer­sey Turn­pike Author­ity.

The New Jer­sey Turn­pike Author­ity per­se­vered through the re­ces­sion’s de­clin­ing toll rev­enues to be in a healthy fis­cal po­si­tion a decade later, ac­cord­ing to the trans­porta­tion agency’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

Donna Manuelli spoke last week at The Bond Buyer’s Mid-At­lantic Mu­nic­i­pal Fi­nance Con­fer­ence.

She said that in 2010, the author­ity’s fi­nan­cial pro­jec­tions showed just a $35 mil­lion gen­eral re­serve fund balance for the 2019 fis­cal year. Moody’s In­vestors Ser­vice, A from Fitch Rat­ings and A2 from S&P Global Rat­ings.

The NJTA is wrap­ping up a $7 bil­lion 10-year cap­i­tal im­prove­ment pro­gram that funded debt ser­vice pay­ments through rev­enue bond trans­ac­tions and two toll in­creases.

The author­ity saw toll rev­enue rise 0.6% in 2017 to $1.58 bil­lion com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to a Fitch re­port re­leased in April. The Fitch anal­y­sis noted that the turn­pike sys­tem could with­stand slightly neg­a­tive yearly growth and cover its debt ser­vice pay­ments.

Manuelli said that the re­ces­sion of 2008 cre­ated an even larger bar­rier for the NJTA

To­day, aided by a two-step toll in­crease, con­trol­ling op­er­at­ing ex­penses and sav­ings achieved through bond re­fund­ing deals, the NJTA has a gen­eral fund re­serve balance north of $300 mil­lion.

“We thought we had $1.8 bil­lion in rev­enue and [for] $35 mil­lion we had our fin­gers crossed be­cause that was seven to eight years in the fu­ture and we were not even re­ally out of the re­ces­sion,” she said. “When I look at where we are to­day, we are so much stronger.”

The NJTA, which has around $11 bil­lion in debt, owns and op­er­ates the New Jer­sey Turn­pike and Gar­den State Park­way.

The agency has bond rat­ings of A2 from to tackle its long-range cap­i­tal plan given the steep de­cline in toll col­lec­tions dur­ing the eco­nomic down­turn.

She said in Oc­to­ber 2008 when the re­ces­sion was al­ready un­der­way, the NJTA’s fi­nan­cial plan still es­ti­mated grow­ing toll rev­enues. By 2010 when pro­jec­tions were re­vised, the NJTA dis­cov­ered $1 bil­lion of lost rev­enue.

“When I think that we lost a bil­lion dol­lars of rev­enue and we have a gen­eral re­serve fund balance of over $300 mil­lion dol­lars and at its bot­tom is go­ing to be about $220 mil­lion, I would say that is a pretty good story,” said Manuelli. “We re­ally are in a bet­ter place.” ◽

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