N.J. Lawmakers Approve Port Authority Transparency Bill

By Terrence Dopp Bloomberg News 

New Jersey’s Assembly gave final approval to a bill aimed at boosting transparency at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has been under scrutiny since allies of Governor Chris Christie ordered lane closings last year at the George Washington Bridge.

The measure would require the agency to file annual audits, protect whistle-blowers and create an internal inspector general’s office. It also would order the authority to hold at least six public hearings before raising tolls.

Lawmakers have called for more accountability at the agency, a source of patronage and perks for decades, since e-mails came to light showing the involvement of Christie allies in engineering traffic jams last September as political retribution. The Port Authority runs the New York area’s three major airports, four bridges, a bus terminal, commuter rail, two tunnels, ports and lower Manhattan’s World Trade Center.

“Last year’s traffic nightmare at the George Washington Bridge is an indication that it has only become more corrupt and less accountable to the people it’s supposed to serve,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat from Englewood who sponsored the bill. “This will promote transparency and prevent a Bridgegate from ever happening again.”

The measure is separate from a bill sponsored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democratic co-chairman of the panel investigating the lane closings. His measure, introduced last month, would strip the state’s two governors of veto power over the agency and give the legislatures more power in making appointments. That bill has yet to receive a hearing and no action is scheduled.

Governors’ Approvals

Huttle’s legislation, which the Senate unanimously approved in September, passed the Assembly 74-0 today and heads to Christie’s desk. The measure is a bi-state effort that passed both houses of the New York legislature in June and awaits Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

Christie, 52, a second-term Republican who’s considering a run for president in 2016, told reporters in September that he wouldn’t comment on the bill until it reaches his desk.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail or telephone call seeking comment on the measure.

Scrutiny of the agency by New Jersey lawmakers started in 2011 following approval of a five-year toll-increase plan that they said didn’t give commuters ample time to comment.

The New Jersey transparency legislation has support in both parties: Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, a Republican from Red Bank who’s on the panel probing the bridge scandal, testified in favor of the measure during committee hearings along with Democratic lawmakers and New York Assemblyman James Brennan, a Democrat from Brooklyn who ushered the measure through his legislature.

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at [email protected] Stacie Sherman, Alan Goldstein