Senator compares Cuomo to Christie as Jersey officials fight for bus terminal

Matt Friedman, Politico

HACKENSACK — Is Andrew Cuomo pulling a Chris Christie?

State Senator Loretta Weinberg, at least, sees a similarity in the way the two governors treat the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“This is a governor trying to take control of the Port Authority through manipulation, intimidation and bullying,” said Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat who co-chaired the Legislature’s investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, referring to Cuomo. “We in New Jersey are already familiar with that.”

New Jersey lawmakers — especially those in North Jersey who have many commuter constituents — desperately want a replacement to the decrepit Port Authority Bus Terminal, and had secured a place for it in the agency’s 10-year capital plan.

But as POLITICO reported this week, Cuomo and Post Authority chairman John Degnan can't come to terms on the amount of money to be spent on the bus terminal. Degnan, a New Jersey appointee, wants roughly $3.5 billion. Cuomo, whose top authority-related priorities are upgrades to Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, wants no more than $2 billion.

After Degnan rebuffed a private request from the governor to lower the amount, Cuomo's office helped organize a public attack on the chairman for an alleged conflict of interest. (The premise is that New Jersey lawmakers, who support the bus terminal, confirmed Degnan's son for a job as state comptroller in the spring, so he owes them.)

Weinberg’s comments came as she and and a bipartisan group of eight other legislators, along with some Bergen County officials and staff members for local congressmen, held a press conference to push back.

“If we don’t have a new bus terminal, if it becomes too much of a hassle and it takes too much time to get to work from New Jersey, what we’re going to see is the employees in those new jobs going to Westchester, going to Connecticut, going to Long Island, and their spending, their tax revenue and their wealth will go with them,” said Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon, who’s also from Bergen County. “ “New Jersey will be condemned to decades to economic distress. That’s how important this is.”

The lawmakers also defended Degnan from attacks by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan, a Cuomo ally who coordinated with the governor's office. 

Gordon called the criticisms an “unprecedented attack” on the independence of the authority’s board members.

State Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. said Degnan — whose predecessor at the Port Authority pleaded guilty this year to shaking down United Airlines to reinstate a flight to an airport near his South Carolina vacation home — has done an “extraordinary job” and has “grown confidence in the agency.”

Weinberg said that just two weeks ago officials from New York and New Jersey were “on the same page” with the bus terminal project. Then, as staff from both states were working on a joint statement about it, “we received information that the 180 degree term was made at the behest of Gov. Cuomo.”

“Suddenly we are seeing New York officials back away from the agreement with unfounded attacks on Port Authority Chairman John Degnan,” Weinberg said. 

Notably absent from the press conference was Gov. Chris Christie, who has long observed a mutual nonaggression pact with Cuomo and who hasn’t spoken out publicly about the current controversy — even as he appeared in public Tuesday to announce a $300 million renovation to the Statehouse. 

“I want to call our governor out,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Bergen County. "He shows he understands the needs to restore and replace structures that are dangerous to the people we serve. It’s not just the governor’s office building that needs to be repaired.” 

Kean insisted that the governor was “very directly engaged” without offering any specifics. 

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney — who said he thinks $6 billion is a more realistic figure for the new bus terminal — took a different tone than Weinberg and some of his other colleagues. 

“This is a partnership. This should not be a fight with New York. It shouldn’t be us against them,” he said.

Asked by a reporter why the New Jersey lawmakers were so angry, Sweeney said “I’m not angry at all.”

“I am,” Weinberg said.

Cuomo's office had no immediate comment.