Reform in store for Delaware River Port Authority?

| 8/24/2010

Officials in two states are pursuing action against the Delaware River Port Authority as controversy swirls around the agency. Recent allegations over the misuse of public funds have launched multiple efforts to investigate the agency’s actions and practices, which include showing favoritism and pension padding.

The $300-million-a-year bistate agency is funded by tolls on vehicles crossing the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, and New Jersey state Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco, R-Gloucester, have initiated legislation that calls on the DRPA to refrain from implementing proposed toll hikes. They also want to change the agency’s federal charter.

The lawmakers want to delay toll increases, which are slated for July 2011, until a full accounting of the agency’s funds is completed.

During the past few weeks, the DRPA has come under heavy scrutiny for mismanagement and a lack of transparency regarding the agency’s policies. The agency’s public safety director resigned after reports surfaced of his misuse of a publicly funded E-ZPass transponder. He allegedly gave his daughter a transponder to commute back and forth to school.

“The DRPA needs a reality check,” Vereb said in a statement. “The agency needs to take a good long look in the mirror and clean house before it passes on the burden of a toll increase onto hard-working taxpayers.”

Earlier this month, Vereb and DiCicco sent a joint letter to U.S. attorneys in Pennsylvania and New Jersey asking for an investigation into the agency’s actions.

“The brazen and callous disregard for the use of public dollars is appalling,” DiCicco stated. He is calling for a thorough review of the authority’s operation to “correct the problems that pervade this operation.”

An effort to change the DRPA’s federal charter is intended to make the agency more open to the public and target perks for board members and employees. Based on suggestions made by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, reforms include an open records policy; providing 30 days public notice prior to any vote concerning a contract; prohibiting vehicle allowances, toll exemptions, and any lump sum expense allowances; prohibiting the acceptance of any gifts; and prohibiting the hiring of immediate family members of current commissioners, officers or employees.

For the federal charter to be changed, identical legislation must be enacted in both states and approved by the federal government.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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