By Steve Strunsky, The Star-Ledger
FORT LEE — A state assemblywoman plans to reintroduce a Port Authority oversight bill following September's George Washington Bridge lane closures, after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill when it went to his desk last year following a controversial 2011 toll hike.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said today that she will re-introduce a bill intended to enhance transparency and lawmakers' oversight of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey before the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 13 or sometime soon after.
The bill's chief provisions include requirements that the bi-state agency provide regular financial reports to the legislature and that it hold more public hearings before any additional toll hikes went into effect. Huttle said she is considering amending the measure to include a requirement that the legislature approve future toll hikes.
And, Huttle said, the unannounced Sept. 9-13 lane closures, which clogged Fort Lee streets, show that the Port Authority is still badly in need of real transparency and oversight.
"Certainly, we have not seen any improvement," she said. "I'm still getting residual emails about the traffic and the toll hikes. I think it's timely that we re-introduced this."
Christie vetoed the original bill in July 2012, saying he wanted more comprehensive reform that included all the state's boards and commissions. The governor and Port Authority officials have also argued against the need for oversight and transparency legislation, noting that the agency has implemented its own reforms at the direction of Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.
But Huttle said her constituents still complain about the multi-part toll hike, which included a third of five increments that went into effect this month, with two more scheduled for 2014 and 2015.
She and other Democrats say the suspect the closures were in retaliation for the Fort Lee mayor's failure to endorse Christie's re-election.
A Christie appointee to the agency, former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, testified last month that the closures were related to a traffic study.
But Christie announced Baroni's accelerated resignation from the agency last week -- the second high-ranking official to depart amid the scandal. The governor acknowledged that mistakes were made in implementing the closures, though he continued to assert that he had nothing to do with them.