By Margaret Donovan and Richard Hughes
The public's best chance to finally hold the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey accountable to the people will expire on Monday.
That is the deadline for Gov. Chris Christie to either sign or veto the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act, which was sent to his desk April 7. It is the companion to a bill already signed last year by New York's Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Due to its bi-state character, the agency has been able to evade the controls that apply to single state agencies, with dismal consequences. Since 2011, when Christie and Cuomo cynically staged the toll gate charade, the two legislatures have increased their efforts to pass the identical legislation required to rein in the agency.
Their labors miscarried over and over again, until finally, in 2014, all four of the state chambers voted without a single dissent to pass the bills. The historic legislation was then vetoed over Christmas weekend by the two governors, in defiance of the public will.
Even for two of the most authoritarian governors in memory, dismissing the almost unprecedented unanimity of the people's representatives for patently bogus reasons was a brazen ploy —and it worked.
When the legislatures tried in 2015 to regroup and launch another effort, most of New Jersey's Republican senators defected and the bipartisan accord was over.
Over the last dozen years, billions of misappropriated dollars were spent at the World Trade Center, eventually leading to the punishing Hudson River toll hikes and the degrading of so much of the region's infrastructure. Perhaps the people would have approved of the $4 billion transit hub or the way in which Larry Silverstein was bailed out of his obligations at Ground Zero — but there were no hearings held and the public was never asked — just told... and tolled.
Therefore, it is ludicrous to suggest that public's best interests can be entrusted to an agency that neglected to include a new bus terminal in its 10-year capital plan and to the governors who routinely approve the monthly minutes of the Board's actions. It is worth noting that the comments and concerns of citizens who make the effort to attend the board meetings and address the commissioners are never included in the minutes that go to the executive chambers for approval. The two governors could at least make a show of caring what their citizens say.
Now, primarily through the dedicated efforts of Assemblyman Jim Brennan and Sen. Andrew Lanza in New York and the gumption of Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Bob Gordon and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle in New Jersey the public still has one last chance to prevail — or the process will have to begin all over again in the fall.
The compromise legislation crafted in New York after the 2014 debacle is solid but was stripped of provisions that the New Jersey sponsors believed were worth fighting to preserve. They finally got their bill to Christie's desk. If he signs it, an amendment to the New York law is ready to go to the legislature and then on to Cuomo for his approval, in order to keep the two laws identical.
If there is ever going to be meaningful reform of the Port Authority, Gov. Christie must sign this bill.
Margaret Donovan and Richard Hughes are directors of The Twin Towers Alliance, a watchdog over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.