NY, NJ legislators to hold joint hearing on Port Authority

A group of New York and New Jersey lawmakers announced today plans to hold a joint public hearing on the finances at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore what the legislators say are problems with accountability.

The hearing will be held on Friday, April 20th at 10:30 a.m. at the Center for the Arts at the College of Staten Island.

“The Port Authority is well on its way to becoming an out-of-control agency focused more on building a real estate empire rather than its mission of providing affordable and reliable transportation and port facilities,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the New Jersey Assembly Transportation, Public Works, and Independent Authorities Committee. “This agency has forgotten that it exists to serve the public. It’s hidden information on a toll increase, wasted money on overtime, stacked its payroll with political cronies and failed to respond to open public records and public hearing requests. It’s time for New York and New Jersey to work together to bring real reform to this troubled agency.”

The hearing will be held jointly by the New York State Senate’s Transportation Committee and the Assembly transportation committee.

 “The Port Authority needs to completely overhaul the way it operates,” said New York State Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), the New York State Senate’s Transportation Committee chairman. “It’s an Authority with a long history of overspending, financial mismanagement, and a total lack of accountability and transparency. Residents can’t afford to keep paying for it anymore. This hearing will examine the Port Authority’s finances and operations and explore ways to make it more accountable with our toll dollars.”

In calling the hearing the lawmakers cited two recent audits that painted the agency as one in need of a major overhaul.  Among the audit items to be discussed in the joint hearing are a reported 20 percent increase in agency compensation over the past five years, overtime pay, and a massive cost overrun in the redevelopment of the World Trade Center.

While Port Authority officials acknowledge that the agency has some problems, they say they are well on their way to transforming it.  Last week, Executive Director Pat Foye and Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni said many of the problems are the result of mismanagement by prior administrations.

“The current Port Authority administration has been open and honest with the public about the problems we face as an agency,” said Foye and Baroni in a joint statement on the agency’s handling of risky swaps deals that could cost the Port Authority more than $150 million this year.. “You can count on more of the same transparency that is now standard operating procedure at the Authority. At the same time, we cannot ignore the legacy of past mismanagement under the watch of previous administrations.”

Also last week, the Assembly transportation committee moved a bill that would grant subpoena power to the committee in investigating the Port Authority.

NY, NJ legislators to hold joint hearing on Port Authority