Pennsylvania governor vetoes port authority reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, October 31, 2016

The veto of a Pennsylvania bill to bring long-sought reforms to the Delaware River Port Authority is referred to as a “slap in the face” of bridge users.

Gov. Tom Wolf acted on Friday, Oct. 28, to veto a bill to overhaul how business is done at the bi-state agency that runs four bridges and a commuter rail in the Philadelphia area. The four bridges are the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross bridges.

The $325-million-a-year agency is funded by tolls to cross the bridges linking Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, called the veto “disappointing.” Instead, he said in prepared remarks the governor chose to “close the curtain on transparency and veto legislation that received overwhelming support in the Legislature.”

The Pennsylvania Senate voted 37-13 to send the legislation to the governor. House lawmakers previously approved SB286 on a 117-73 vote.

The Democratic governor said he would have signed the bill into law except for one provision he said “allows for legislative interference with an executive branch prerogative.”

“The requirement that gubernatorial appointments to the DRPA be confirmed by the Senate before the appointees may serve on the board of the Port Authority is unnecessary,” Wolf wrote in his veto letter.

Rafferty pointed out that the New Jersey Senate already has confirmation power over its appointees.

“The DRPA is trusted with millions of dollars in taxpayer money through the tolls that users pay,” he stated. “They should be accountable to the legislature and the citizens they serve.”

The gubernatorial veto comes on the heels of a federal judge’s decision to overturn a $17.8 million contract to paint the Commodore Barry Bridge.

In late September, U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman accused the DRPA of unfairly awarding bids in an “undocumented process shrouded in mystery and obscured from public scrutiny.”

The judge’s decision also appointed the contractor that provided the lowest of seven bids submitted to paint the bridge. The DRPA had selected a company that placed a bid that was $10,200 higher than the lowest bid.

Other changes sought in the bill include forcing the bi-state agency to provide public notice 30 days prior to any vote concerning a contract and adhering to open records laws. In addition, acceptance of any gifts that could affect the conduct of DRPA business would be prohibited.

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

A similar pursuit is underway at the New Jersey statehouse.

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

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