TRENTON — Reconciling with Democrats in New Jersey who vowed earlier this year to continue pushing their own reform legislation after it failed to pass the legislature, Gov. Chris Christie today threw his support behind a new bill package sponsored by lawmakers across the Hudson that would further overhaul the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the wake of scandals like Bridgegate.
In a joint statement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Christie said the bill introduced in the New York legislature today will “achieve exactly the sort of reform that we are seeking” under recommendations proposed by the bi-state commission tasked with investigating the agency last year, as well as legislation introduced by state Senator Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) earlier this year.
Political observers credit Kean’s legislation, which combines ideas from both the Democrats’ earlier bill with a list recommendations put forward by the panel, with derailing Democratic lawmakers’ attempt in New Jersey to override a veto by Christie of their original legislation back in March.
“Achieving much-needed reform of the Port Authority’s structure, management, operations and governance to secure its future as a transportation and economic cornerstone of our region is a goal that Governor Cuomo and I share. Based on bipartisan, collaborative work with representatives from both states, a bill is being introduced in New York that will achieve exactly the sort of reform that we are seeking, including the key elements of the recommendations of the Bi-State Special Panel and legislation introduced under Senator Tom Kean, Jr.’s leadership earlier this year,” Christie said. “I urge New Jersey’s legislature to introduce and pass this bill as well so that we can finally meet the standard for reform laid out by Governor Cuomo and me last year: a real, fundamental and long-lasting reimagining of the Port Authority that efficiently and transparently serves the needs of our region and the public.”
“The legislation introduced today adopts the comprehensive changes underway as a result of the recommendations made in December by the Bi-State Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority,” Cuomo added. “By enshrining these improvements into law, we will ensure the Port Authority will ably and effectively serve the people of the New York metropolitan region and returns to its original core mission of developing and overseeing regional transportation infrastructure. Enacting these critically important reforms will also ensure a more transparent and effective Port Authority. I want to thank Governor Christie and my partners in the legislature and in New Jersey for working together to guarantee that the Port Authority functions at the highest standards.”
According to a report by the Associated Press, the new bill would replace the authority’s executive director and deputy with a new chief executive, rotate the chairmanship every two years between the two states and prohibit the chairman or commissioners from also holding staff positions, among other measures.
Sponsors on the New Jersey side of the original Democrat-backed reforms are calling the new package “encouraging,” but cautioning lawmakers to not rush the legislation and leave out important parts, such as ensuring that the core mission of the Port Authority is refocused on critical transportation infrastructure needs, overhauling the management hierarchy, requiring greater financial accountability, and making sure that each state has an equal seat at the table, they said.
“After their eleventh hour veto Christmas weekend it’s encouraging to see that both governors finally understand the importance of reforming this extremely troubled agency. I’ve been working with my colleagues in New York to make sure that this bill, and all Port Authority reform efforts, overhaul the culture that has allowed dysfunction, waste and abuse to exist for so long,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-38). “This legislation includes much of what we have been fighting for over the past several years, including much of what the governors vetoed last year.”
“My number one priority all along has been to make sure reforms are substantive in nature and not simply business as usual masquerading as reform. I am thoroughly reviewing this proposal and will discuss it with my colleagues in New Jersey as we decide our next steps. Our New Jersey constituents deserve no less,” she added.
Reforming the sprawling bi-state agency — which was at the center of the scandal surrounding the closing of commuter lanes outside the George Washington Bridge in 2013 — has been a tricky balancing act for Christie in particular, who has been laying the groundwork for a presidential run over the last several months and expected to make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.