Friday, July 27, 2012

So Much For Openness: Gov. Christie Blocks Bill That Would Require Port Authority To Hold Hearings Before Toll Hikes

In the wake of an outcry from commuters around the New York City metro area about proposed toll hikes at Port Authority of New York and New Jersey bridges and tolls, both Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo acted swiftly to force the agency to pare back the increases.

Both also claimed that they would push for more accountability and fiscal responsibility from the bistate agency.

Well, it looks like the charade continues.

Governor Christie killed a bill that would have required the agency to hold hearings before implementing toll hikes.
The developments illustrated Christie’s tight control over the Port Authority and his administration’s insistence on reforming the agency from within, despite Democratic attempts to harness anger generated by recent toll hikes on the agency’s bridges and tunnels.

Christie’s veto of a proposed state law that would have forced the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to hold public hearings before future toll increases drew an immediate rebuke from the bill’s sponsors, who said Christie killed their effort to bring more transparency and accountability to the Port Authority. The bi-state transportation agency is jointly controlled by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Democrats have called for more legislative oversight, audits and investigations. But Christie has said his administration is already fixing a “dysfunctional” agency that he inherited, and he has dismissed outside efforts as politically motivated.

Christie’s strategy has included stocking the agency with loyalists who will enact his agenda, and that trend continued on Thursday with the Port Authority’s announcement that failed Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon, a former Christie colleague in the U.S. attorney’s office, would take over as the agency’s deputy general counsel starting Monday.

“In effect, the governor announced that reform at the Port Authority will not happen under his watch,” said state Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, a lead sponsor of the proposed bill, along with Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood.

Christie told state lawmakers that the bill should be altered to focus on hundreds of smaller independent authorities, boards and commissions — what he has called the state’s “shadow government.”
Sorry, but the Port Authority is a shadow government in its own right and the open hearings law should have applied to all agencies. The Port Authority is a bistate monstrosity that is accountable to the governors of New York and New Jersey alone. There's no oversight, and both states see the Port Authority coffers as a bank from which they can draw upon for infrastructure projects without having to directly raise taxes. Instead, the agency can and does issue more and more bonds using the tolls and fares to back them.

That isn't to say that toll and fare hikes aren't warranted. They are; the Port Authority has significant projects it has to carry out over the next few years and that costs tremendous sums of money. From the Bayonne Bridge span height increase to replacing hangers and cables on the George Washington Bridge to a replacement span for the Goethals Bridge and the PATH terminal at the World Trade Center, the agency has a huge capital load on its plate.

But the agency must do more without raising fares and tolls. There has to be more accountability and holding public hearings on which these issues can be made known would have been a good first step.

Christie doesn't want to lose the governors' tight grip on the agency, which includes selecting individuals for key positions.

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