TRENTON – Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle today said recent revelations at the Port Authority demonstrate the need for legislation they sponsored that would have provided for increased oversight of potential board member conflicts of interest. The ‘PANYNJ Transparency and Accountability Act,’ (S-1761) was stripped of its meaningful provisions when it was conditionally vetoed by Governor Christie during the last legislative session.
The Record reported this week that Board Chairman David Samson voted for the reconstruction of a PATH station in Harrison three months after a builder represented by his law firm, Wolff & Samson, proposed converting nearby warehouse into luxury apartments. A second board member voted on the proposal after securing rights to build an apartment complex nearby, the newspaper reported.
“This goes to the very heart of the problem with the Port Authority. This is a multi-billion-dollar agency that operates with no accountability to the taxpayers, to commuters or to state government,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It has been abundantly clear for some time that a higher level of scrutiny and oversight is required. This is just the latest example of the potential problems that can develop when no one is watching.”
“We must change the culture of the Port Authority,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Its budget is larger than 26 states. Yet, there is almost no accountability on how commuters’ dollars are spent. The PANYNJ has operated in the shadows for decades and the public has paid the price.”
The PANYNJ Transparency and Accountability Act would enact various reforms to ensure transparency at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, including directing the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority to establish a governance committee. The governance committee would be required to undertake a number of actions, including examining ethical and conflict of interest issues. Senator Gordon and Assemblywoman Huttle said they have re-introduced the legislation (S-303/A-1083) and hopes to move it forward in the near term.
“This is not about the worthiness of the reconstruction project, but about the culture that exists at the authority,” said Senator Gordon. “We have to implement checks and balances at the agency and this bill would have done that. In fact, part of the reforms in our bill required the creation of a committee to oversee potential ethical and conflict of interest issues. This legislation passed with broad bipartisan support last session. We have reintroduced the legislation and look forward to moving it forward in the near term.”