Bi-state effort would reform Delaware River Port Authority

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, June 12, 2014

A bi-state effort is underway at the New Jersey and Pennsylvania statehouses to reform the Delaware River Port Authority.

New Jersey Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris; Pennsylvania Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery; and Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, recently unveiled their plans to overhaul how business is done at the bi-state agency that runs four bridges and a commuter rail in the Philadelphia area.

The $325-million-a-year agency is funded by tolls to cross the bridges. DRPA has been under federal investigation for the past year for money spent on economic development.

Pennacchio said that changes are needed to permanently address DRPA’s wasteful spending on economic development at the expense of families and commuters.

“It is unacceptable that 50 cents of every dollar paid to the DRPA funds debt service, thanks to political spending on economic development that doesn’t benefit commuters,” Pennacchio said in a news release.

Vereb said changes are needed to remind port authority officials the bridges and trains were established to serve travelers, “not the people who work in positions of power” at the agency.

Bills in both statehouses would prohibit the bi-state agency from engaging in economic development activity. Other changes include forcing the agency to comply with ethics and public records laws. In addition, a two-thirds majority of commissioners would need to sign off on any toll increase.

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

Critics say the agency’s board has already adopted many of the changes.

Pennacchio said it’s important to make sure the changes are law in both states.

“Overall, with this public agency that has been politically corrupted in the past, people know we cannot let the fox police the henhouse.”

In Pennsylvania, Rafferty and Vereb’s bills are in their respective chamber’s transportation committee. In New Jersey, Pennacchio’s bill is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Another bill from Rafferty would give the Pennsylvania governor veto power over actions of the agency’s board. The New Jersey governor already has this authority.

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