VAINIERI HUTTLE CALLS ON CHRISTIE TO END SILENCE AND CLEAN UP PORT AUTHORITY OF NY & NJ BEFORE CONSIDERING ANY TOLL HIKES

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) on Thursday called on Governor Chris Christie to tackle the allegations of waste and taxpayer abuse at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) before considering any toll increases at the trans-Hudson crossings, let alone the monumental ones recently proposed by the authority.

In doing so, Vainieri Huttle sent the letter below to Governor Christie asking him to implement the necessary controls to crack down on the abuse of taxpayer dollars that has allowed the authority to expend nearly half of a billion dollars in overtime costs over the last five years, as detailed in the audit report released yesterday by the New York State Comptroller.

“This Governor has repeatedly tried to stake his reputation on being a no-nonsense type of guy that’s not afraid to tackle the problems at our independent authorities and agencies. He has gone to great lengths to highlight the superfluous costs he has vetoed at agencies like the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the Delaware River Port Authority. Yet when it comes to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he has remained uncharacteristically silent, ultimately allowing these exorbitant cost overruns by signing off on both their minutes and budget.”

Vainieri Huttle noted that the audit released yesterday showed that the Port Authority paid $85.7 million in overtime last year alone.

“Now, when faced with a scathing audit detailing rampant waste at the PANYNJ, he has yet to take a position, while he considers allowing the authority to go forward with increases that would be devastating for countless New Jersey commuters,” continued Vainieri Huttle. “There is no way the Port Authority should be allowed to consider charging commuters up to $17 a day to cross the Hudson while showing such little regard for protecting the hard-earned taxpayer dollars they are already collecting.”

Vainieri Huttle called for swift action in light of the pending vote tomorrow by the Port Authority to increase tolls at the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland Tunnels by $4 per trip for E-Z Pass Commuters and $7 per trip for cash payers, with an additional increase in 2014 that would see cash payers forking over a staggering $17 per day, round trip.

“This proposal was troubling enough when it was first announced, but now that we’ve seen the latest audit, it’s completely unacceptable. In such a difficult economy, Governor Christie should step in immediately to stop this abuse. If he is not willing to ask the wealthiest taxpayers in New Jersey to pay a little more, then there is no way he should consider asking hard-working commuters of all different socio-economic backgrounds to do so,” added Vainieri Huttle.

A full copy of Vainieri Huttle’s letter is included below:

August 18, 2011

Hon. Chris Christie, Governor
State of New Jersey
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Governor Christie:

It is with great concern for the commuters of this state that I call on you to use your executive power to address the costly mismanagement of funds at the Port Authority of NY and NJ before you even consider supporting the Authority’s proposal to raise toll prices. It would be insulting to the people of New Jersey and in conflict with the espoused principles of your administration to endorse this monumental toll increase while allowing the Authority to continue to operate in a system mired in waste and abuse.

As we saw in the audit released yesterday by the New York State Comptroller, the Port Authority has doled out roughly half of a billion dollars in overtime pay in just five years, a move that seems completely anathema to your attempts to reform waste and abuse at many of the state’s authorities and agencies.

You cannot, in good conscience, ask the hardworking commuters of this state to potentially pay $17 per day to work in New York, while the Port Authority demonstrates little concern for protecting and maximizing taxpayers’ dollars. This is particularly galling when so many New Jersey residents are reeling from the downtown economy and the impacts of budget cuts. The toll hike would be especially devastating for the constituents of my district and other residents of Bergen County, twenty percent of who commute into New York on a daily basis.

I am also concerned that the approval process has afforded few residents the opportunity to be heard. Holding only eight public hearings in a single day in the middle of the summer when many residents are on vacation was not sufficient. This process lacked transparency, accountability, and public input.

Since taking office, you have used your veto and oversight powers time and again to institute controls and crackdown on waste and abuse at agencies like the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the Delaware River Port Authority. With this in mind, I call on you to break your silence and act to implement necessary changes at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to ensure that it is operating efficiently and wisely allocating taxpayer dollars.

Sincerely,

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle