ON SATURDAY, Governor Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed bi-state, bipartisan legislation that would have brought sweeping reforms to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Instead, the governors presented their own plan, ignoring the voices of legislators in their respective states. Those voices should not be silenced.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, a primary sponsor of the vetoed bill, said he intends to push for an override of Christie's veto and that state Senate President Stephen Sweeney supports that effort. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, told The Record she would support such a move in the Assembly. Speaker Vincent Prieto should make that happen, as well.
The Legislature has failed to override a single Christie veto. Finding enough votes to do so now will not be easy, despite the overwhelming Republican backing of this Port Authority reform bill. New Jersey Republicans have cowered in the presence of Christie and backpedaled on their positions rather than face his wrath. But given the scandals at the Port Authority, no state legislator – regardless of party affiliation — should be sitting on his or her hands when it comes to reform.
Some of the recommendations of the governors' special panel are worthy of more discussion. But there was no reason for the governors to veto reform legislation aside from the simple fact that they did not want to relinquish any power or control over the bi-state agency. The legislative reforms, had they been signed by the governors, would have been codified into law. But the governors want something more malleable, and they may be successful in achieving that.
New York legislators do not have time to try for an override before their session ends; New Jersey lawmakers do. Attempting to override the Christie veto is important not just for legislators who want lasting reform, but for legislators who want to stand for something more than Christie surrogates.
At stake here is more than the Port Authority; it is the constitutionally created power of the legislative branch. If these men and women cannot believe in what they propose, debate and then collectively approve, they are making a mockery of the legislative process.
New Jersey Republicans who want to embrace changes suggested by Christie and Cuomo can do so, but they should not be rejecting their own reforms. There is nothing in the Port Authority reform bill that precludes them from embracing all or parts of the governors' proposal.
New York legislators may reintroduce the bill in their next session and, if it is approved by both chambers again, send it to Cuomo. If it is vetoed — which seems likely — they could at least try for an override. Cuomo should not have the last word.
But clearly, both Cuomo and Christie wanted to change a conversation they did not control. Legislators must demand not only that the conversation continue, but that they remain equal partners in the discussion. To borrow from Christie's vocabulary: The governor's veto of this reform bill is not justification for legislators to sit down and shut up.