Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo declined to sign legislation passed unanimously in both of their state legislatures that would change the management structure at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
Instead, Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, and Cuomo, a New York Democrat, said they accepted revisions recommended by a special panel to reorganize the agency, and urged their respective legislatures and the Port Authority to implement them, according to a joint statement released today.
The report’s recommendations include consolidating the agency under a single chief executive officer; the appointment of a chief ethics and compliance officer; making public records rules consistent with state laws; divesting real-estate holdings that aren’t deemed vital to the agency’s mission, including commercial real estate at the World Trade Center; and building a new bus terminal in Manhattan, according to the statement from the governors.
Lawmakers, transportation advocates and government watchdog groups have pressed for a housecleaning at the 93-year-old agency since e-mails came to light showing the involvement of Christie allies in engineering traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution.
Both governors have been facing ethics inquiries. Christie, who’s said he’s considering a run for the White House in 2016, has been under scrutiny by a federal prosecutor and a New Jersey legislative committee about the traffic jams engineered on the Hudson River span in September 2013. In Manhattan, the U.S. attorney is examining the Cuomo administration over its meddling and shutdown of an anti-corruption panel.
The Port Authority runs the New York area’s three major airports, four bridges, the bus terminal, commuter rail, two tunnels and ports, and owns the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
Scrutiny of the agency by New Jersey lawmakers started in 2011, following approval of a five-year toll-increase plan that they said didn’t give commuters ample time to comment. In 2012, an audit ordered by both governors called the Port Authority a “challenged and dysfunctional” organization in need of a complete overhaul.
Federal and state investigators are also looking into whether Christie improperly directed the Port Authority to spend $1.8 billion on the Pulaski Skyway and other road projects, which aren’t Port Authority assets.
Following the bridge scandal, the Port Authority took steps to improve governance and public disclosure. The agency adopted changes to its freedom-of-information policy to abide by the laws of New York or New Jersey, depending on which one is deemed to be more favorable to disclosure.
The agency, which proposed a $7.8 billion budget for 2015, is also posting detailed meeting agendas, taking roll-call votes from commissioners and providing more opportunity for public comment. Previously, commissioners would vote on packages of resolutions without public discussion.
–With assistance from Freeman Klopott in Albany.
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