New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Senator Bob Gordon and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg on Wednesday joined with New York State Assemblyman Jim Brennan and advocates in calling on Governor Christie to sign reform legislation they sponsored aiming to overhaul the beleaguered Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The legislation, S-708/A-2184, known as the “Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act,” will guarantee legislative oversight of the agency as it undertakes a number of high profile construction projects critical to the region’s future. It passed the New Jersey Legislature with bipartisan support, and was sent to the governor’s desk on April 7th.
“Trying to get identical legislation agreed upon and passed in both houses of two separate legislatures is no easy feat, especially legislation that remains true to our intent and tackles our main goals. But after a lengthy, multi-year process, I’m confident that this end product does just that,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This legislation is comprehensive in nature and tackles the key elements that we have been concerned with – incorporating legislative oversight, fiscal safeguards, transparency and accountability. Cumulatively, these provisions will help transform an agency once mired in waste, abuse and scandal into one that operates with the best interests of tri-state commuters in mind.”
“Reforming the Port Authority is vital to bringing accountability to the scandal-plagued agency, and any true effort must include legislative oversight. The Port Authority is not only going to be responsible for building a new Port Authority Bus Terminal, but also is being entrusted with the lead role in coordinating the construction of the new Gateway Rail Tunnel,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “These projects are critical to New Jersey’s future, and it is crucial that we have the ability to monitor the cost and progress of these and other projects on an ongoing basis in the years ahead.”
“This agency plays a crucial role in the region’s economy. With authority over billions of dollars of commuter funds, ensuring there are adequate checks and balances in place is critical,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Legislative oversight needs to be the foundation of any legitimate Port Authority reform bill. The fact is that legislative oversight is public oversight, and history shows that no agency needs it more than the Port Authority. We are calling on the governor to do the right thing and enact real reform that will finally bring needed change to the authority.”
The legislation incorporates all of the management, ethics and transparency reforms included in the Port Authority bill that has already been signed into law in New York, but also provides legislative oversight, capital project monitoring and labor protection provisions negotiated with New York Assemblymember Brennan, the lead sponsor of the New York bill. Brennan has introduced legislation in New York that would mirror the provisions in New Jersey’s strong Port Authority legislation. Since the Port Authority is a bi-state agency, it is necessary for both states to enact identical reforms in order for them to take effect.
“The New Jersey bill keeps the New York law intact while enhancing it by adding a few provisions which are entirely consistent with the spirit of improved transparency and accountability. We believe that the additions greatly enhance the value and effectiveness of the reforms found in the New York law,” Assemblymember Brennan stated. He added, “With major projects coming down the pipeline, the Port Authority needs strong transparency and accountability measures applied to its operations as soon as possible. I urge New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to sign the Port Authority Reform Act into law.”
“The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a multi-billion dollar entity that provides important transportation services and implements much needed infrastructure improvement projects. Due to the importance of the Port Authority to both our states, it is equally important to ensure accountability and transparency within Port Authority. Therefore, it is imperative that we enact legislation that will foster public confidence in the Port Authority that they are operating responsibly. This legislation accomplishes this goal and should be signed into law,” stated New York State Senator Golden.
“We thank leaders in both states for collaborating on this legislation to improve transparency and accountability of the troubled Port Authority. We urge Governor Christie to swiftly sign the bill, and for the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo to adopt the additional provisions before the end of the 2016 NYS legislative session,” Veronica Vanterpool, Executive Director, Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The legislation includes provisions to provide:
· Legislative Oversight. Give the New York and New Jersey legislatures the right to require the appearance of the Port Authority’s chair or vice-chair, chief executive officer, chief fiscal officer and any other staff for up to two committee hearings each year before each legislative body.
· Toll and Fare Increase Controls. Institute stricter controls when it comes to toll or fare increases by requiring that an independent needs assessment be conducted prior to any increase in tolls for the use of any Port Authority bridge or tunnel or fares for the PATH system. The bill also requires the port authority to hold at least six public hearings not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days prior to any vote or action taken by the board relating to any increase in tolls or fares.
· Transparency. Increase transparency by requiring that all meetings of the Port Authority are to be open to the public and members of the news media, unless a majority of the commissioners vote that a portion of the meeting may be conducted in closed session, and meeting agendas must be made available to the public at least 72 hours before each meeting.
· Public Hearings on Capital Projects. Require the Port Authority to give 60-days’ advance notice and to hold public hearings in each state prior to the adoption of a new 10-year capital plan, and to conduct a public hearing every three years providing a capital status update on the progress and costs of all projects. The provision was suggested by New Jersey transportation experts at public hearings.
· Independent Monitoring of Major Projects. Require independent monitoring of all capital projects costing more than $500 million – a category that would include the new Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Gateway Rail Tunnel and other major projects.
· Compliance with Collective Bargaining Agreements. Require interviews by the inspector general to be conducted in accordance with procedures established in existing labor contracts, language requested by Port Authority unions.
· Financial Accountability. Requires the Port Authority to publish a comprehensive annual financial report; prepare annual financial statements in accordance with generally-accepted accounting principles; and have an independent firm of certified public accountants perform an audit of the financial statements each year.
· Debt Notice. Require 60-days’ notice of the issuance of debt by any subsidiary corporation set up by the Port Authority, an important requirement with the Port Authority likely to set up a subsidiary in conjunction with Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation to build the Gateway Tunnel.