Lawmakers want greater accountability at Port Authority

FORT LEE – In the wake of the controversial Port Authority of New York and New Jersey toll hike, lawmakers from both states want greater transparency and accountability at the agency.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D-37), Englewood, and N.Y. Sen. Andrew Lanza (R- 24), launched a bipartisan effort toward that goal.

They unveiled a proposal today that they said will create a new system of accountability at the Port Authority. Because laws governing the bi-state agency do not take effect until New Jersey and New York have enacted substantively identical legislation, Vainieri Huttle and Lanza will each sponsor the measure in their respective legislatures.

The package of reforms is designed to ensure the proper functioning of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as an open, transparent, and accountable interstate authority, the legislators said.

Among the issues that generated controversy in the aftermath of the toll hike were the scheduling of the public hearings; many felt they were deliberately situated in out-of-the-way locales and at times inconvenient for working men and women to attend. And the question of when did the two states’ governors know of the proposed hikes also became an issue.

 

The proposal includes the following reforms:

Increase Public Access and Participation

  • Require the port authority to conduct at least 10 public hearings between both states not less than 30 days prior to the adoption of any increase in any fee, toll, charge or fare for the use of the transportation facilities of the authority;
  • Require the port authority hold at least one of the public hearings in each affected county in New York and New Jersey to ensure all concerned residents have an opportunity to participate in the public hearing process;
  • Require that in the event that amendments are made to the proposed increase, toll, charge or fare, the port authority must conduct a subsequent round of public hearings in accordance with the guidelines for the initial public hearing process;
  • Prohibit the subsequent round of public hearings from being held less than 15 days prior to the adoption of the amended proposal;
  • Require all port authority commissioners in office at the time to attend each public hearing;
  • Require that no more than one public hearing shall be held in a single day;
  • Require at least one-half of the public hearings to be scheduled outside of normal business hours to allow commuters and residents with traditional employment schedules to attend;

Transparency and Accountability

  • Require an independently conducted and certified annual audit of the port authority;
  • Require the results of the independent audit to be published on the port authority’s website;
  • Require the independent audit to account for overtime usage and expenditures;
  • Require an independent need assessment for any proposed increase in fee, toll, charge or fare to be made in accordance with the most recently conducted independent audit;
  • Require a periodic efficiency study to be conducted by an independent efficiency expert;
  • Institute clearly defined fiduciary responsibilities for commissioners of the port authority; and
  • Require certification of financial reports by the chairman, vice-chairman, chief financial officer, executive director, and deputy executive director of the port authority.

Among the issues that generated controversy in the aftermath of the toll hike were the scheduling of the public hearings; many felt they were deliberately situated in out-of-the-way locales and at times inconvenient for working men and women to attend; and the question of when did the two states’ governors know of the proposed hikes also became an issue.

“The Port Authority bears a tremendous amount of responsibility and has the ability to significantly impact the lives of thousands of commuters every day,” said Vainieri Huttle in a release. “For several years I’ve been pushing for a system of greater accountability to ensure that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and with the proper amount of oversight. I’m pleased that Senator Lanza is joining with me to help move these efforts forward in a bi-state, bi-partisan fashion.”

The Port Authority’s operations include Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy airports; the Port of New York and New Jersey, which is the leading marine cargo port on the east coast of North America; the PATH mass transit system; the World Trade Center; and numerous bridges and tunnels, including the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

Previous coverage:

Christie, Cuomo express concern over proposed toll hikes

Port Authority approves reduced toll hike

 

Lawmakers want greater accountability at Port Authority