New Jersey governor turns back latest attempt at Port Authority reform

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/27/2016

Reform at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey remains elusive as Garden State lawmakers continue to wrangle with the governor.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill this week. The bill would give state lawmakers more authority over the agency that runs bridges and tunnels, which 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.

The governor described the legislation in a veto letter as the “antithesis of improving transparency and accountability.” One complaint he has is that the bill, S708, shields union members from cooperating in investigations into the agency.

Christie is also critical of “redundant and costly burdens” that he says “would force the Port Authority to hire an independent engineering firm to monitor every capital project that exceeds $500 million, which represents the majority of such projects.”

Instead, he called on state lawmakers to approve identical rules adopted in New York.

Since the authority is a bi-state agency, identical legislation must be approved in both statehouses before it can take effect.

New York’s law sets up whistleblower protections and calls for a rotating chairmanship between the states. The one-year-old law also requires open meetings.

Christie said New Jersey Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. of Union has introduced legislation that hits the mark.

Despite their desire to mandate legislative oversight of the agency, some New Jersey Democrats this week said they may choose to go along with the governor’s wishes. However, party leaders on Thursday opted not to advance Kean’s legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said legislative oversight must be included in any effort to reform the multibillion-dollar public agency.

“We only get one opportunity for reform, and it has to be done right,” Weinberg said in prepared remarks.

Kean said on Thursday that his bill, S355, represents the only clear path forward for changes at the Port Authority.

The push for changes at both statehouses intensified following the unannounced closure of three lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., in September 2013, which 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 later resigned. Two investigative reports found no proof that Christie knew about the lane closures beforehand.

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