GORDON-WEINBERG BILL BRINGING SUNLIGHT TO THE SHADOWY PORT AUTHORITY CLEARS THE SENATE

Senator Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, listens to testimony being given to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

TRENTON — The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be subject to the open record laws of the two states under a bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon and Senator Loretta Weinberg that passed the Senate today.

Under the bill, S-2183, the Port Authority would be required to abide by the Open Public Records Act of New Jersey or the Freedom of Information Law of New York. Although the Port Authority adopted new policies and procedures concerning public access to its records in November 2008, the public does not have any recourse if the requested documents are not provided, because the authority is not subject to either state’s open records law. If there is an inconsistency between the laws of the two states, the one that provides the greatest rights of access shall apply.

“Without access to records, the public cannot properly hold the Port Authority — or any other government agency — accountable for its actions. Unfortunately, the Port Authority has operated for too long as if it’s out of the reach of the public and the commuters who pay the bills,” said Gordon. “While this bill helps bring some accountability, more reforms are needed. I look forward to working with my fellow lawmakers in New Jersey and New York in enacting broad reforms that will overhaul this stubborn agency and restore the publics’ trust.”

“The Port Authority controls and oversees major infrastructure and transportation facilities and has an annual budget that surpasses that of many states. Yet is has operated as if it is exempt from basic government standards,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen). “This is a necessary reform that will shine much-needed sunlight on the operations of the Port Authority. But this is also a first step in the process. We know that additional reforms are needed that will bring to the Port Authority the type of accountability that the public demands, and we will be working with our counterparts in New York to ensure that happens.”

In order for bi-state authorities like the Port Authority to be ruled by state law, the compact of the commission or authority must be amended by enacting identical or similar legislation in both participating states.  On June 18, 2014, the New York state legislature passed a nearly-identical bill to subject the Port Authority to their Freedom of Information Act laws.

Gordon has been among the leaders in New Jersey pushing for reforms at the Port Authority. His calls for changes at the agency grew in 2011, after a plan to raise tolls was hatched in a backroom and foisted on the public. Public debate was intentionally limited and the commuters who foot the bill were ignored. More recent events surrounding the closing of lanes feeding into the GeorgeWashingtonBridge have served to provide further evidence for the need for reforms.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 39-0.