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Assembly Democrats Chastise Senate Republicans for Forcing Commuters to Take a Backseat to Bureaucrats

As PATH Fares Rise and More Bridge & Tunnel Toll Increases Loom, Republicans Side With Governor in Killing Transparency & Accountability Reforms

The Democratic Assembly sponsors of the bipartisan Port Authority Transparency and Accountability Act – Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Connie Wagner, Ruben Ramos, Jr. and John Wisniewski – on Thursday commended Senate Democrats for attempting to override the Governor’s conditional veto of the measure and called out Senate Republicans for following Governor Christie’s lead and failing to support real reforms at the embattled, multi-billion dollar agency.

The measure (S-1761) received final legislative approval in late May, only to languish on the Governor’s desk for two months until Christie conditionally vetoed (CV) the bill and returned it to the legislature with language that does not even include the Port Authority. The lawmakers pointed out that Christie’s CV effectively kills the bill because this legislation is already working its way through the New York legislature and any measure governing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requires identical legislation to be approved by both states.

“Essentially, Senate Republicans joined with the Governor today in telling commuters to take a backseat to bureaucrats,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This is especially disappointing given that several Senate Republicans voted in favor of the legislation just a few months ago. There is no disputing that transparency and accountability should be applied to every government agency, but with PATH fares going up this week and bridge and tunnel tolls scheduled to increase another 75 cents in December, commuters deserve transparency and accountability.”

“This is both irresponsible and nonsensical and begs the question as to why Republicans would continue to protect this scandal-ridden authority when toll payers are suffering,” said Wagner (D-Bergen/Passaic). “By changing the language of this bill, the Governor has effectively killed any reforms at the Port Authority and his colleagues in the Senate have given him their blessing.”

“The Governor and Senate Republicans are essentially turning a blind eye and letting the Port Authority off the hook,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “Countless commuters in my district are being crushed under the weight of the Port Authority’s toll increases and yet Republicans refuse to stand with us and demand accountability while the Port Authority is mired in waste and lavishes exorbitant perks on its executives.”

“This is a failure in leadership on the part of both the Governor and his Republican colleagues in the Senate,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “Despite endless documentation about abuse and fraud at the Port Authority, they refuse to stand up and demand reforms to protect toll payers. It’s baffling.”

The legislation was prompted by repeated stories of exorbitant overtime costs at the Port Authority; contradicting statements justifying the need for last September’s toll hikes; $4 million in Christie administration patronage hires; and outlandish perks for authority members and retirees.

The main provisions of the legislation would have required:

– Open public meetings and the publication of minutes of the meetings of the authority’s Board of Commissioners;
– Public hearings to be held in the port district of New York and New Jersey to discuss any proposed fee, toll, charge or fare increase;
– The establishment of audit, finance and governance committees;
– An independent auditing of the Port Authority;
– Financial disclosures and training for commissioners;
– Financial reports certified by the chair and vice-chair of the board of Commissioners of the Port Authority and the executive director, deputy executive director and chief financial officer of the authority; and
– The creation of a fiduciary responsibility for commissioners.