Pennsylvania House panel advances port authority reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/8/2018

Pursuit continues at the Pennsylvania statehouse for long-sought reforms to the Delaware River Port Authority.

Gov. Tom Wolf in October 2016 vetoed a bill to overhaul how business is done at the bistate agency that runs four bridges and a commuter rail in the Philadelphia area. The four bridges are the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross bridges.

The $325-million-a-year agency is funded by tolls to cross the bridges linking Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, has annually advocated for change at the agency. He described the Democratic governor’s 2016 decision to veto reform legislation as “reprehensible.”

“Comprehensive reform measures are needed at DRPA due to the multiple accounts and investigations of corrupt and unacceptable practices over the last six years,” Rafferty wrote in a memo to Senate members. He described the unacceptable practices as “including patronage hiring, lack of transparency, lavish perks, burdensome toll increases, excessive spending and debt, discredited appointees, etc.”

Despite overwhelming approval by state legislators during the previous two-year session, the governor used his veto power to nix the reform efforts.

The Democratic governor said he would have signed the bill into law except for one provision he said “allows for legislative interference with an executive branch prerogative.”

“The requirement that gubernatorial appointments to the DRPA be confirmed by the Senate before the appointees may serve on the board of the Port Authority is unnecessary,” Wolf wrote in his veto letter.

Rafferty has pointed out that the New Jersey Senate already has confirmation power over its appointees.

“The DRPA is trusted with millions of dollars in taxpayer money through the tolls that users pay,” he stated. “They should be accountable to the legislature and the citizens they serve.”

His renewed effort at the Pennsylvania statehouse, SB170, again includes the Senate confirmation provision. The bill has advanced from the Senate on a 38-11 vote. More recently, the House Transportation Committee voted 14-10 to clear the way for the bill to move to the House floor for consideration as early as next month.

Committee members voting in opposition to the bill cited the governor’s refusal to give up power over appointing DRPA commissioners.

In addition to providing the Senate with confirmation power for gubernatorial appointees, the bill includes forcing the bistate agency to provide 30 days public notice prior to any vote concerning a contract and adhering to open records laws. In addition, acceptance of any gifts that could affect the conduct of DRPA business would be prohibited.

To change the DRPA’s federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and be approved by the federal government.

A similar pursuit is ongoing at the New Jersey statehouse.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.



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