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Originally Published: June 18, 2014

CU urges Governor Cuomo to sign two reform bills, putting pressure on NJ to act

Enactment of legislation will provide much needed response to scandal at George Washington Bridge

Statement by Dick Dadey, Executive Director

Citizens Union commends the New York State Legislature for passing two bills today that brings a new level of ethics, accountability and transparency to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. These reform measures – backed strongly by Citizens Union – set the stage for changing the culture at the Port Authority, which has been the butt of late night comedy because of the George Washington Bridge Scandal.
 
The two bills, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2014, S.7721/A.3944-C (Lanza/Brennan), and separate legislation to ensure that the Port Authority is subject to the Freedom of Information Law, S.6718-C/A.8785-C (Ranzenhofer/Paulin), now await action by Governor Cuomo.
 
CU urges Governor Cuomo to sign the two bills into law, adding pressure for New Jersey to then pass an identical bill in the New Jersey Legislature to the Lanza/Brennan legislation, S.2181/A.3417 (Gordon/Huttle), and similar legislation on Freedom of Information, S.2183/A.3350 (Gordon/Huttle).
 
Citizens Union thanks Assemblymembers Brennan and Paulin, and Senators Lanza and Ranzenhofer for their leadership in shepherding these two bills through the legislative process. CU worked closely with these legislators to ensure passage of the bills, and offering recommendations to improve the legislation.
 
Enactment 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.
 
Enactment of S.6718-C/A.8785-C will ensure more robust disclosure of records by the Port Authority and provide the public with the clear authority to sue should records not be provided.
 
In supporting these two important pieces of legislation, to which it succeeded in getting improvements, Citizens Union urges our state’s leaders to consider further reforms to the Port Authority, as presented in its Position Statement on Port Authority Reform, particularly as the bi-state commission created by Governors Cuomo and Christie deliberates on changes to the authority. Specifically, CU recommends the following:
 
  • The Port Authority should not be divided into separate entities run by each state; rather, it should remain unified and have a governance model that ensures a focus on regional planning and cooperation;
  • The current bifurcated structure of an Executive Director recommended by the Governor of New York and Deputy Executive Director recommended by the Governor of New Jersey must end, as is has contributed to the division of the agency into two separate camps with a focus on pet projects for each state rather than on regional coordinated development, which has been the hallmark success of the Port Authority’s past;
  • The Board of Commissioners should directly appoint the Executive Director, who should be clarified as the Chief Executive Officer of the Port Authority; and
  • The Chair of the Board of Commissioners should rotate between the states of New York and New Jersey.
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. Enactment of these two pieces of legislation will ensure greater public confidence in, and oversight of, the Port Authority.
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