Fed up with the way business is done at the Port Authority, a legislative package nearing passage at the New Jersey statehouse is a step toward making the agency more accountable.
The proposals were brought up in response to the implementation last fall of the first phase of a multiphase toll increase on bridges and tunnels for cars and trucks. The rate for trucks is slated to increase from $40 to $90 by 2015.
PANYNJ officials said the toll increases are needed to help them pay for a 10-year, $25 billion capital plan.
The agency’s actions created a backlash. Citing a lack of public input in the decision to increase tolls, the New Jersey Assembly voted unanimously to advance a bill to Gov. Chris Christie to create greater transparency and accountability at the Port Authority. Senate lawmakers already approved it by unanimous consent.
Specifically, the bill – S1761 – would require the agency to hold a minimum of 10 public hearings at least 30 days before future toll or fare increases.
The toll hikes imposed last fall were approved two weeks after eight public hearings were scheduled on the same day. Four hearings held Aug. 16 began at 8 a.m. while four other hearings were held at 6 p.m.
Additional reforms would include a requirement that two-thirds of Port Authority commissioners attend public hearings, only one of which could be held in a single day. In addition, at least half of the public hearings would be required to be scheduled outside of normal business hours.
“This is a public agency with a larger budget than most states, yet it’s run behind closed doors like a private country club,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, said in a statement. “It’s time the agency learned that those days are over.”
The bill would also require an independent audit of the port authority each year.
Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Bergen, said taxpayers and commuters deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
“It is simply no longer acceptable for the Port Authority to continue to conduct its business behind closed doors,” Wagner stated.
The Assembly voted to advance to the Senate a second bill that covers the agency’s tax exempt status. A699 would require the Port Authority to pay municipalities for properties it owns in the state equal to what the taxes would be.
If Christie signs the bills into law, identical legislation would also need to be adopted in New York. To become effective, lawmakers in both states must endorse changes to the bistate authority.
To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey, click here.
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