Thursday, August 18, 2011

Port Authority Closing In On Fare and Toll Hikes Despite Scathing Audit

Expect the Port Authority to go ahead and approve fare and toll hikes Friday even though New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a scathing audit finding that the Port Authority spent nearly $100 million on overtime, and that its average salary was well over $90,000 - and that includes its entire police force, which patrols bridges, tunnels, ports, and airports. Overtime flows like water.
The agency paid $85.7 million in overtime last year to 5,360 of its 6,977 employees, an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found. The audit concluded that the agency failed to rein in extra pay, citing dozens of employees who made more in overtime than they did in base salary.

“Management has no clear strategy to achieve its own benchmarks and goals for curbing costs,” DiNapoli said. “Before the Port Authority asks for more money to fund its operations, the agency should take a long, hard look at whether its business model for managing overtime really makes sense.”

The agency issued a brief statement in response.

“The Port Authority just received this report and we take it very seriously,” agency officials said in a statement. “We will continue to cut costs and make sure we value every dollar as we work to meet the region’s needs.”

Part of the overtime conundrum is the result of the agency employing fewer people and requesting those that are on the payroll to do more. However, it appears that there's few hurdles to enabling PAPD officers from running up overtime that matches their base salaries.

The agency held hearings earlier this week, where it got an earful from commuters complaining about the 50%+ toll hike and a nearly 60% hike on PATH fares. It's almost a given that fares and tolls will rise, but it may come down to whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Chris Christie will limit the hikes what I expect to be half what the agency wants.

Christie is being coy about his position, mostly because it is New Jerseyeans who will bear the brunt of the costs, particularly at the bridges and tunnels between New Jersey and Manhattan.

One way to deal with Port Authority payroll issues is to eliminate the Port Authority police force and delegate the tasks to local police instead. As it is, the Port Authority has regular issues with NYPD interactions regarding security at Ground Zero and the World Trade Center complex before that. Memorandum of understandings have been issued from time to time setting out who is responsible for what, even though the facility is located in New York City. Let the NYPD patrol, and you can generate savings in that fashion. It can make the chain of command and responsibility for security far more difficult than it ought to be, but the Port Authority has its own fiefdom to protect.

The security can be picked up by New Jersey State Troopers or New York State Troopers at other border crossings, including the ports and airports.

Infrastructure improvements need to be fully funded, and key items need to be upgraded, but the Port Authority is also full of waste and projects it oversees have gone over budget, none more spectacularly so than the PATH transit hub at Ground Zero. Despite claims that it would contain costs, it has gone more than $1 billion over budget.

No comments: