New York lawmakers approve Port Authority transparency bills

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/24/2014

Two bills headed to the New York governor’s desk are intended to improve transparency at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The first bill would require the bi-state agency to follow the same guidelines for other public authorities in New York state. S6718 specifies that records of the port authority and meetings of the board and its committees be open to the public.

The second bill, A3944, includes financial reporting and transparency requirements for the agency that runs bridges and tunnels that 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.

New York state Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, said in prepared remarks the reform package “is designed to rein in the Port Authority’s misplaced real estate dealings and ensure its proper functioning as an open, transparent, and accountable interstate authority.”

The push now underway follows the implementation of a multiphase toll increase for all vehicles on Port Authority bridges and tunnels. Since 2011, the rate for trucks has more than doubled with two more increases slated for December 2014 and 2015.

The first of five tolls hikes was approved two weeks after eight public hearings were scheduled on the same day.

The agency’s actions created a backlash. Citing a lack of public input in the decision to increase tolls, lawmakers in both states have been working to improve operations.

Calls for change heated up again following the unannounced closure of three lanes in Fort Lee last September that snarled traffic for days on the George Washington Bridge.

Democratic legislators allege the project was political retribution against the Fort Lee, N.J., mayor because he didn’t endorse Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for re-election last fall.

Port Authority officials say the closures were related to a traffic study. Three officials at the Port Authority have since resigned. Investigations into the allegations about the lane closures continue.

Lawmakers on both sides of the state line continue to work for changes to how business is done at the Port Authority.

“This legislation is a bi-state, bi-partisan effort to ensure that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and with the proper amount of oversight at the Port Authority,” stated New York Assemblyman James Brennan, D-Brooklyn.

If New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the reform bills into law, identical legislation would also need to be adopted in New Jersey. To become effective, lawmakers in both states must endorse changes to the bi-state authority.

In New Jersey, Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, are leading efforts to get nearly identical legislation through their respective chambers of the New Jersey statehouse.

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