Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, John Wisniewski, Joseph Lagana and Tim Eustace on Monday called out Gov. Christie for his latest attempt to block reforms at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) by conditionally vetoing overhaul legislation they sponsored to create transparency and accountability at the embattled agency.
The bill (S-708/A-2184), known as the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act," would have guaranteed legislative oversight of the agency as it undertakes a number of high profile construction projects critical to the region's future.
"The Governor's repeated actions to block real reform at the Port Authority speak volumes," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "We worked exhaustingly to make sure that this latest bill transforms the culture that has allowed dysfunction, waste and abuse to exist for too long while ensuring that the Port Authority is refocused on critical transportation infrastructure needs and, importantly, guarantees that New Jersey has an equal seat at the table. Why the governor would choose a path that weakens New Jersey's role is beyond me. Our number one priority all along has been to make sure reforms are substantive in nature and not simply business as usual masquerading as reform. I am thoroughly reviewing the Governor's recommendations and will discuss it with my colleagues as we decide our next steps."
"After his eleventh-hour Christmas weekend veto of the previous bill, the Governor pledged to support a substantive overhaul of the Port Authority. Now, once again, he's thrown up another road block," said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). "While not surprising, given his tangled relationship with the agency, it is still disappointing nonetheless. Our commuters deserve far more than a governor who endorses and enables the status quo."
"New Jersey and New York commuters have paid the price for the Port Authority's mismanagement for far too long," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This law would have finally instituted much needed financial control, transparency and fiscal management to help rein in costs and improve efficiency. The Governor's decision to stand in the way of reforms, once again, is disheartening and a blow to tri-state commuters."
"The last time tolls hikes were approved it was under a cloak of darkness with rushed hearings being held in remote locations during business hours when most people couldn't attend," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation would have changed all that to institute greater transparency and accountability and make sure taxpayers have far greater input into how their dollars are spent. It's unfortunate for commuters that the Governor has not chosen to fight for them. We, however, will not give up on their behalf."
The legislation would have incorporated all of the management, ethics and transparency reforms included in the Port Authority bill that has already been signed into law in New York, while also providing legislative oversight, capital project monitoring and labor protection provisions negotiated over the past several months with New York Assemblyman James Brennan, the lead sponsor of the New York bill.
The compromise legislation gave the New York and New Jersey legislatures the right to require the appearance of the Port Authority's chair or vice-chair, chief executive officer, chief fiscal officer and any other staff for up to two committee hearings each year before each legislative body.
Among many other provisions, the legislation also instituted stricter controls when it comes to toll or fare increases by requiring that an independent needs assessment be conducted prior to any increase in tolls for the use of any port authority bridge or tunnel or fares for the PATH system. The bill also required the port authority to hold at least six public hearings not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days prior to any vote or action taken by the board relating to any increase in tolls or fares.