Port Authority Perks

The Port Authority’s reputation as a gigantic, out-of-control and unaccountable bureaucracy is well-deserved. But every now and again, its leaders realize that something simply has to be done to placate the agency’s chorus of critics.

No doubt that’s what led PA officials to announce recently that it would cut salaries, benefits and other perks in an effort to save $41 million between now and the end of next year. What’s striking, however, is not that these perks are being cut. Their very existence—until now—speaks to the agency’s traditional cluelessness.

The agency announced that about 30 top executives will absorb pay cuts of 8 percent or so and will now have to pay up to 35 percent of their health-care insurance costs. That’s fine, but here’s the question: Why haven’t those executives been paying 35 percent of their insurance all along?

Politicians around the country have been demanding greater health-care contributions from public employees for years now. The politicians were right to make those demands, and, for the most part, public-employee unions were left with little choice but to get with the program. Taxpayers demanded that public employees pay more into the system so that taxpayers would have to pay less.

What’s disturbing is that the Port Authority wasn’t in much of a hurry to make similar demands on its top-ranking executives. It took a spate of headlines about the agency’s inefficiency and lack of transparency to prod leaders into cutting back on unsustainable and unfair perks for its top bosses.

The good news is that the agency realizes it simply cannot stand aloof while other agencies are preaching—and acting upon—austerity measures. It took too long for the Authority to respond, but at least it has, at last, acknowledged new fiscal realities. Perhaps leaders have learned that the days of handing out perks like free rides on PA facilities for the agency’s retirees belong to another era.

In another bit of belated but welcome good news, the Port Authority’s leaders announced a new commitment to transparency on budgetary and policy matters. To show this new-found commitment to openness, the agency began posting more than 20,000 pages of internal documents on its website. Information about employee compensation is included among the documents.

The PA still has a long way to go before it can reclaim the trust of its customers. But these recent steps show that leaders understand the problems. Whether the reforms are an exercise in public relations or a sign of sustained commitment remains to be seen.