TRENTON – Assembly Democratic Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski said today that issuing subpoenas to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is not a politically motivated witch hunt, but an attempt to enforce transparency and accountability at a multibillion-dollar bi-state agency that he said is out of control.
Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee, said this afternoon that while the Port Authority did respond to two requests and supplied some documentation the committee sought, it still omitted key information.
The Assembly committee had been granted subpoena power earlier this year, but that power expires after one year, and Wisniewski said he had become convinced that the Port Authority strategy was to run the clock out.
Wisniewski, often mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate next year, said that if his motivations had been purely partisan, he would have had the committee issue subpoenas immediately. Rather, he said, he tried to work cooperatively with the Port Authority, but finally felt that effort was not succeeding.
The Port Authority, which has until Nov. 8 to respond to the subpoena, did not comment immediately on the Assembly committee’s action.
“Despite their claims to a newfound commitment to transparency, they continue to withhold information,’’ Wisniewski said. “It reflects arrogance and a refusal to recognize they are a public agency that is accountable to the public for their actions.”
Among the documents the committee seeks are those involving the now-canceled Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project, the controversial toll hike enacted last year, and any correspondence related to candidates referred to the Port Authority for jobs by Gov. Chris Christie.
The committee issued two requests for documents, and the Port Authority did supply some material each time, Wisniewski said, but the critical information the committee seeks has not been given.
Wisniewski said the Port Authority’s budget is larger than many states, and a typical commuter pays more in tolls than in income taxes to New Jersey.
But it is a troubled agency, Wisniewski said, with $1.7 billion in cost overruns at the World Trade Center project and billions of dollars in necessary capital projects that lack funding.
The purpose behind seeking ARC documents, even though that project was scuttled by the governor due to concerns of cost overruns that would be borne by the state, is to understand the decision-making process at the Port Authority, Wisniewski said.
“It’s almost as if the folks making these decisions thought they had an endless checkbook,” he said, reiterating there is a need for increased legislative oversight of the Authority.