Reforms one step closer at Delaware River Port Authority

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, September 26, 2014

A pair of bills halfway through the Pennsylvania statehouse would reform the Delaware River Port Authority.

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

The Pennsylvania Senate voted unanimously this week to advance two bills that are intended 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.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said the goal is to ensure that the agency is run efficiently and cost-effectively without undue influence or conflicts of interest.

“These are long overdue and common-sense reforms that will guarantee greater accountability and openness to the DRPA, ensuring that it is responsive to its customers and to the states in which it operates,” Rafferty said in a news release.

He added while discussing the bill on the Senate floor that the changes would help focus the agency by “maintaining its core function and not branching off to other unrelated areas that cause large toll increases.”

The first bill, SB1358, 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.

A similar pursuit is underway at the New Jersey statehouse.

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

Bill advocates say it’s important to make sure the changes are law in both states to avoid simply relying on the agency to police themselves.

The other Senate-approved bill, SB1373, would give the Pennsylvania governor veto power over actions of the agency’s board. The New Jersey governor already has this authority.

Both bills await further consideration in the House.

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