TRENTON – One topic dominated the week: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
It began with subpoenaed Authority honchos testifying before N.J. lawmakers about the bizarre manner in which a Fort Lee ‘traffic study’ was announced and conducted.
It ended with the top N.J. appointee to the Authority handing in his walking papers.
On Monday Executive Director Patrick Foye, the top N.Y. appointee to the bi-state authority, told the Assembly Transportation Committee that there was no study.
He defended Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni. He said he has worked with him on many undertakings at the Authority.
But on Friday, Gov. Chris Christie walked into his outer office and announced he had accepted the former state senator’s resignation.
Christie, who has been friends with Baroni for 20 years, defended the man’s integrity, and said he had planned to make a change anyway because four years is long enough at that agency.
The committee on Monday took testimony from an engineer who said that if the agency had planned on studying traffic, then the way they went about it at Fort Lee was not how it should have been handled.
Two officials said they were informed by since-resigned N.J. appointee David Wildstein that the study was going to be conducted, and that they were to tell no one about it, not even the folks at Fort Lee who were going to be monumentally inconvenienced.
They made it clear to John Wisniewski’s panel they were quite concerned about bypassing the chain of command and bringing concerns to higher-ups.
Democrats started talking about a culture of fear at the Authority.
Foye made it clear that if Wildstein – a former PolitickerNJ editor – had been a New York employee, he probably would have been fired.
Wildstein submitted his resignation a week ago, and then this week ended with Baroni carrying his boxes out the door as well.
Although the administration may want this issue to go away, there are no signs that Democrats in the Statehouse or around the country have any intention of complying.
They have an issue that can be kept in the headlines for weeks, and they show every sign of doing that.
Wisniewski on Thursday subpoenaed documents from seven Authority officials. They are due next Thursday.
The chief legislative issue of the week was tuition equality, the DREAM Act to allow undocumented students to pay lower, in-state tuition and have access to financial aid.
The Assembly Budget Committee, which passed a bill in June, amended it to bring it into line with a Senate bill. The original Assembly bill did not include the financial aid provision.
The hearing created the opportunity to reiterate testimony about the opportunities this bill will create for students.
But on Friday, Gov. Chris Christie re-emphasized his opposition to the Senate bill that includes the financial aid clause.
The Assembly bill was more acceptable before it was changed, Christie indicated.
Democrats, in post-committee comments, made it clear they are anticipating a conditional veto as a result.
Lawmakers such as Budget Chair Vincent Prieto call it a matter of fairness for students.
Opponents said offering Tuition Aid Grants to undocumented students would leap-frog them over, for example, out-of-state citizens.