Bill Sponsored by Wisniewski, Vainieri Huttle, Stender & Ramos
(TRENTON) – The New Jersey General Assembly on Thursday voted 43-30-2 to grant an Assembly panel subpoena power to investigate Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spending.
The resolution – which does not require further approval – is sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Wisniewski, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Linda Stender and Ruben Ramos, Jr. and was prompted by scathing reports and questionable decisions by the Port Authority during recent months. It gives the subpoena authority to the Assembly transportation committee chaired by Wisniewski.
“This step was made necessary by the Port Authority’s sheer hubris and failure to respond to basic questions about its operations,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who is also a Deputy Assembly Speaker. “More and more the Port Authority is beginning to look like an out-of-control agency that has forgotten it exists to serve the public. It hid information on its painful toll increase, wastes money on overtime, stacks its payroll with political cronies, fails to respond to public records requests and tried to obfuscate it all by declining hearing invitations. It’s time to get straight answers once and for all.”
Wisniewski on Monday announced that New Jersey and New York lawmakers will also hold a special joint April 20 hearing on Staten Island to discuss the Port Authority’s operations.
Under the approved resolution, the panel is permitted to convene as a special committee with the power to issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of individuals and testimony and the production of books, papers, correspondence and other relevant documents.
“The deficiencies detailed in the recent audit call into question the need for the exorbitant toll hikes heaped on commuters last fall,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who is sponsoring legislation (A-1011) along with Ramos and Wisniewski to overhaul the way the Authority conducts business. “Toll payers shouldn’t be forced to suffer for the Port Authority’s lack of oversight, insufficient cost controls and poor capital planning. More importantly, they shouldn’t be lied to and kept in the dark, especially when it impacts their daily finances. If they’re not willing to take control of their finances, somebody must for the sake of the toll payers.”
“We’ve now seen not one, but two scathing audits detail the complete lack of accountability and transparency at the Port Authority,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “At this point, it appears as though the agency is accountable to no one – certainly not the toll payers who are bearing the burden of the authority’s actions and clearly not lawmakers either. It’s time to put an end to that.”
“The back-pedaling, double-talk and lack of transparency has to change,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “This is a monstrous agency that impacts the lives of countless tri-state area commuters every day and yet they operate in the shadows answering to no one. We must shine some light on the way they operate.”
In August, a New York Comptroller audit revealed that the Port Authority had wasted nearly half of a billion dollars on overtime costs over the last five years.
Despite this and other reports of mismanagement and abuse, the agency went ahead and approved near record toll hikes with little public input, citing, among other things, increased costs for the Word Trade Center reconstruction project.
After the agency was sued by AAA of New York and Northern New Jersey, the authority rescinded the claims that a portion of the tolls would be used for the World Trade Center site, calling into question the need for the exorbitant hike.
Consequently, Wisniewski called a Feb. 2 hearing of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee to investigate the authority’s finances and invited the Executive Director of the Port Authority, but he declined to attend or send a representative in his place.
Several days later, a scathing audit described the agency as “a challenged and dysfunctional organization” that suffered from lack of oversight, insufficient cost controls and poor capital planning.
The approved legislation will allow the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee to be constituted as a special committee of the General Assembly with subpoena power to investigate all aspects of the finances of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, including, but not limited to, the recently proposed 10-year capital plan, the allocation of the revenue from the recently imposed toll increase plan and where that revenue is being spent, and the salary, overtime and other compensation paid to officers and employees of the authority.