Port Authority toll hike plan sends Christie-conscious Hudson Dems into different directions

The responses by three different mayors in Hudson County to a proposed toll hike reveal the extent of Gov. Chris Christie’s Hudson County power grip, as pols universally conclude that Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut a deal to stagger out the news so both men can indirectly absorb the public outcry, and chop the Port Authority-announced fare increase down to a more reasonable hike.

State Sen. Brian Stack, (D-33), Union City, spokesman Mark Albiez told the Jersey Journal’s Augie Torres, “During this economy the Port Authority should be looking at ways to encourage mass transit.”

The response generated off-the-record giggles from Hudson County insiders, who are used to Stack agreeing with the Republican governor. But they also conceded that Stack’s opposition was one key way to recognize that the governor wasn’t blindsided on the issue. If the governor didn’t have a discernible master plan with Cuomo, there would be no way Stack would react negatively, said sources.

A source close to Stack said Christie’s office reached out to the mayor Friday and tipped the mayor about the fare increases, which would amount to 50%, according to published reports. The order was simply that Stack not hit the administration too hard while Christie maneuvers on the inside, hence the objection in the Journal – without any additional digs.

Then there was Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), who issued a statement on PolitickerNJ.com in support of the proposed toll increase.

“As Mayor of a Community at the heart and center of the Port of New York and New Jersey, I understand the importance of a modern, safe and secure transportation infrastructure and circle of mobility,” said Smith. “As many of our roads, tunnels, subways and bridges approach their centennial year, it is critical that the Port Authority plan for and execute capital improvements that keep these vital systems safe and up to date.”

A source close to Smith said the mayor supports the capital plan for the Bayonne Bridge project.

“What the mayor said yesterday was what he said when the governor came to Bayonne to announce the Bayonne Bridge project, and that’s we support the capital plan, do what it takes to get it done,” said the source.

Smith, like others in his party unwilling to criticize, was alert to the needs of labor, which wants the bridge project.

The third mayor in the mix was state Sen./North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco, chairman of the Senate Transportation committee, who at first said nothing publicly about the plan.

A source close to Sacco said the mayor doesn’t want to jeopardize relations with the front office by making a negative comment. Another source said Smith asked Sacco not to take a public position right now.

The mayor, added the source, knows the politics and understands Christie and Cuomo “cut a deal” on the fare increase, and to blast what’s on the table now would indicate a lack of recognition of their political endgame and prove a fruitless objection.

Sacco later issued a statement strongly rejecting the plan.

“I strongly oppose the Port Authority’s proposed toll and fare hike,” he said. “This is nothing more than a hidden tax on New Jersey commuters and it cannot stand.

“If the Port Authority is struggling to fund existing projects, the agency should reach out to New Jersey and New York and work with policymakers on both sides of the river to come up with a plan that’s fair to residents of both states. As it stands, New Jersey drivers are paying for a tunnel to nowhere through increased tolls that were intended for the cancelled ARC Tunnel. Rail and bus commuters pay among the highest fares in the country, and rates have already gone up in recent years. The high cost of commuting is an added tax on middle class New Jerseyans who travel to Manhattan for work.”

Port Authority toll hike plan sends Christie-conscious Hudson Dems into different directions