New York, New Jersey lawmakers renew push to reform Port Authority

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/16/2015

State lawmakers in New York and New Jersey will revisit efforts in both states intended to reform the Port Authority. Since the authority is a bi-state agency, identical legislation must be approved in both statehouses before it can take effect.

The governors of each state acted late last month to veto legislation to overhaul the bi-state agency despite unanimous consent in both statehouses to adopt new rules. Instead, they offered their own plan for fixes.

In New Jersey, Sen. Bob Gordon said the Democratic-led legislature would attempt an override in March of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s veto.

“We will ask our colleagues to vote with us to finally bring change to an out-of-control agency,” Gordon said in a news release.

An override attempt of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto is not possible in New York because the two-year session ended earlier this month. Instead, Assemblyman Jim Brennan, D-Brooklyn, introduced a new bill once the 2015 regular session convened.

Among the changes sought by lawmakers: a requirement for the Port Authority to follow the same guidelines for other public authorities in the state; mandatory annual audits; creation of an internal inspector general’s office; and the agency subject to the public records laws of both states.

In a joint statement from Dec. 27, the governors said recommendations from a special panel they appointed would do more to fix problems at the agency that runs bridges and tunnels that include the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels; the Port of New York and New Jersey; and Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

Specifically, the panel recommended restructuring the Port Authority’s top management, board and operations. A chief ethics and compliance officer would also be created. In addition, the agency would be required to follow public records laws in both states.

Another recommendation calls for focusing solely on infrastructure and transportation.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, isn’t backing down from getting changes enacted at both statehouses.

“It is time to bring real and meaningful change to the Port Authority,” Weinberg stated. “We will be working hard over the next couple of months to make sure that happens.”

The push for changes at both statehouses intensified following the unannounced closure of three lanes in Fort Lee, N.J. in September 2013 that snarled traffic for days on the George Washington Bridge.

Democratic legislators in New Jersey allege the project was political retribution against the Fort Lee mayor because he didn’t endorse Gov. Christie for re-election in 2013.

Four officials at the Port Authority have since resigned despite agency claims that the closures were related to a traffic study. However, two investigative reports have since found no proof that Christie knew about the lane closures beforehand.

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