The infamous traffic jam last year on the George Washington Bridge — a bizarre political payback organized by aides to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — did one good thing. It focused lawmakers on the urgent need to reform the huge, secretive Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bistate agency that owns the bridge and other major facilities in the region.
NOVEMBER 28, 2014
As a result of the scandal and numerous resignations at the authority’s highest levels, legislators from both statespassed exactly the same package of reforms, as required in order to change the authority’s policies. Having four legislative bodies enact the same bills — virtually unanimously — is a political feat so rare that most political observers considered it practically impossible. Now there is one more step. Both Mr. Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York must sign these bills to bring this politically tainted institution out of the shadows.
After the bridge scandal, the Port Authority began the process of reforming itself, a worthy effort so far. But future governors and future members on the board of commissioners could quickly retreat from any inconvenient restrictions on their power. The package now awaiting the governors’ signatures would make real reforms more permanent.
The bills would subject the authority to freedom of information laws in both states — a big change — and would provide new protections for whistle-blowers. Commissioners would not be allowed to discuss, much less vote on, an item if they had a conflict of interest. And most important, they would be required to certify in writing that their loyalties were to the agency and its public mission, not to clients or their political allies. Progress now depends on Mr. Christie and Mr. Cuomo doing their job to help right a giant institution that lost its way.