Christie and Cuomo veto post-Bridgegate reform of Port Authority

Benjy Sarlin MSNBC

Thumbing their noses at their state legislatures, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo jointly vetoed a bipartisan bill on Saturday to overhaul the Port Authority, which is trying to move past a series of scandals tied to lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last year.

The Port Authority, which manages bridges, airports and trains in the region, among other duties, is jointly run by both states and thus requires both states’ approval to enact an overhaul. Both states’ legislatures unanimously approved bipartisan legislation, which would have created a new top executive position and required commissioners to take a pledge of fiduciary responsibility to avoid any appearance of political gamesmanship.

In a statement Saturday night, Christie, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, offered up a long list of reforms they supported, including a new chief ethics officer position, but concluded that they would not support the bill in question. They said they would ask for all Port Authority board members to offer their resignation.

“[W]hile neither Governor is approving the legislation as passed, they are urging their respective Legislatures and the Port Authority to work with them to implement the broad reforms package recommended by the Special Panel, recommendations which will mark a new beginning and form a basis for meaningful reform for decades to follow,” the statement read.

Some legislators were upset with the decision, however, arguing that the two governors had blown up a carefully crafted reform package with bipartisan support. 

“I find it very disappointing that both governors together decided to turn their backs on their respective legislators,” New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat, told the Associated Press.

“It’s appalling and disappointing,” New Jersey state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat who sponsored the reform bill, told The New York Times. “The Legislatures of New Jersey and New York crossed party lines to pass Port Authority reform. The governors crossed party lines to obstruct it.”

Christie, who is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2016, has been dealing with the fallout from a series of scandals surrounding the Port Authority under his watch, including allegations that top aides closed bridge lanes during rush hour to punish local officials, seemingly for political retribution. A report by a joint legislative panel in New Jersey concluded this month that there was no evidence Christie himself was involved in the closings, but that his staff who participated in the episode “did so with perceived impunity and in the environment, both in the [governor’s office] and the Port Authority, in which they felt empowered to act as they did, with little regard for public safety risks or the steadily mounting public frustrations.” The U.S. Attorney’s office is still conducting a federal investigation of the closings.