Originally Published: June 17, 2014
Recent scandals at Port Authority compel need for legislative action
Reform bill has already passed the NYS assembly, and has identical legislation in NJ
Citizens Union and AAA New York call upon the New York State Senate to seize the historic opportunity to reform the Port Authority by passing the “Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2014,” S.7721/A.3944-C (Lanza/Brennan), before the end of the legislative session. In a needed convergence of common interests, this comprehensive reform legislation has already passed the New York State Assembly, and has identical bills in the New Jersey Legislature, S.2181/A.3417 (Gordon/Huttle).
Passage of S.7721/A.3944-C would extend changes implemented for other state authorities through the 2005 Public Authorities Accountability Act and the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act to the Port Authority. This new legislation will ensure that the Port Authority has sound governance policies, strong ethics and conflicts of interest regulations, that commissioners have a fiduciary duty to the authority and support its mission, and that it is subject to the same financial reporting and transparency requirements as other public authorities in New York State. It will also ensure that the public has greater opportunity to respond to proposed toll and fare increases.
“The Port Authority was created in the spirit of bi-state cooperation, and the recent scandal around the closing of the traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge has demonstrated the need to return to the roots of its creation,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “Passage of the Port Authority Transparency and Accountability Act will ensure sound governance practices and move the authority toward more professional management as well as a renewed focus on regional interests.”
“Although the Authority operates some of the busiest and most important transportation facilities in the United States – including the world’s busiest bridge – the George Washington Bridge – there is clearly room for added fiscal and operational transparency and little doubt that higher levels of public oversight are necessary,” stated John A. Corlett, Legislative Committee Chairman for AAA New York State – a group representing 2.8 million members in New York. Corlett noted that the Authority increased tolls in 2011 without disclosing a Capital Plan detailing how the new revenue would be spent. The Authority plans two additional toll hikes in December 2014 and in December 2015. By December 2015, the one-way cash toll on Port Authority bridges and tunnels will be $15.
The Port Authority touches the lives of many New Yorkers, as it controls billions of dollars in transit fees and bridge tolls, and owns and manages the major airports, bridges and ports surrounding New York City, as well as the World Trade Center site. Both New York and New Jersey residents—as well as the myriad businesses that are impacted by its functioning—have a vested interest in it operating in an open and accountable manner, as well as it utilizing sound governance and management practices. Passage of this legislation will ensure greater public confidence in the Port Authority as it reforms its operations.