N.J. lawmakers call on Christie to sign Port Authority reform bill

John C. Ensslin, The Record

Lawmakers from New York and New Jersey called on Governor Christie Wednesday to sign a bill that would give both legislatures greater oversight of the Port Authority.

And the prime sponsor of the identical New York version of the bill said he is confident lawmakers in Albany will pass it swiftly if Christie signs the New Jersey measure by May 23, the deadline for him to sign or veto the New Jersey bill.

"It's a complicated situation because it takes six to tango," said Assemblyman James Brennan, a Democrat from Brooklyn.

He noted that it will take approval of both houses in both legislatures plus the signatures of Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the law to go into effect.

Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie, said that Christie supported an earlier version of the oversight bill that was proposed by Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean.

"That legislation already has been adopted in New York and has been awaiting action by New Jersey's Legislature," Murray said.

New Jersey Democrats, however, felt that measure was not strong enough and instead passed their own version.

They sent that bill to Christie after the Assembly passed it unanimously in April and the Senate passed it by a 25-9 vote in February.

Brennan said his staff briefed Cuomo's staff on the contents of the New Jersey bill in November. He said Cuomo was non-committal but said he would let the New Jersey Legislature deal first with Christie.

If Christie signs the bill, Brennan said there is enough time for the identical measure to be passed in New York before their legislative session ends in June.

"The New Jersey measure should be basically a no-brainer in New York to pass and for Gov. Cuomo to sign," Brennan said following a news conference in Fort Lee Historic Park on a bluff overlooking the George Washington Bridge.

He was joined by New Jersey senators Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn; Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood.

Kean, R-Union, criticized the Democrats for not supporting the earlier measure that he proposed.

"Passing my Port Authority reform bill is still the speediest and most effective way to enact critically needed and long overdue reforms," Kean said in a statement.

But Gordon said the bill passed in New Jersey is better because it calls for greater oversight.

"Given the blatant abuses of power exhibited by the agency over the years, that bill (Kean's proposal) simply doesn't provide adequate protection to commuters," Gordon said.

The New Jersey bill would give the legislatures in both states specific oversight of the bi-state agency, which controls the region's bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports.

The measure would require Port Authority officials to appear before each house of the Legislatures up to twice a year. The measure also calls for independent monitoring of building projects of more than $500 million.

The agency has several large projects as part of its capital plan, including rebuilding the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and digging the new Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Gordon and Huttle said they began working on Port Authority reform in the aftermath of a controversial toll hike adopted by the agency.

The measure gained further impetus after the controversy over an apparently politically motivated closure of two of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee for four days in September 2013.