By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
Fed up with the way business is done at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey lawmakers in both states have unveiled a plan to make changes.
About two weeks ago the Port Authority implemented the first phase of a multiphase toll increase on bridges and tunnels for cars and trucks. The rate for trucks will be boosted from $40 to $90 by 2015.
PANYNJ officials say the toll increases are needed to help them pay for a 10-year, $25 billion capital plan.
The agency’s actions have created a backlash. The American Automobile Association filed a federal lawsuit Sept. 27 challenging the constitutionality of the increases.
On the state level, New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, and New York Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Richmond, have announced a bipartisan, bistate effort that is intended to create greater transparency and accountability at the Port Authority. As a result, the public would get more say on similar proposals in the future.
Because any changes governing the bistate authority must be approved in both New York and New Jersey, lawmakers from each state are moving forward with plans to require the Port Authority to hold “at least 10 public hearings between both states not less than 30 days prior to the adoption of any increase.”
The latest round of toll hikes was approved two days 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 sought in the bistate action include a requirement that all Port Authority commissioners attend each public hearing, 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.
“The public deserves sufficient opportunity to weigh in and have their concerns heard,” Vainieri Huttle said in a statement.
The lawmakers also cited a recent audit of the Port Authority as a reason for increased transparency. Conducted by the New York State Comptroller’s office, the audit suggested the agency lacked documentation to justify service contracts and may have wasted money.
To address the concern, the legislative action would require an independent audit of the port authority each year.
“This bistate partnership ... should send a clear message to the Port Authority that we mean business and they’ve got to stop covering their failures by picking the pockets of our drivers,” Lanza stated.
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