Senate Transportation Committee to hold hearing on Port Authority reform Monday
TRENTON – Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bob Gordon and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg today unveiled Port Authority reform legislation that would mandate transparency and ethics reforms, guarantee legislative oversight, and require extensive public hearings prior to any bridge and tunnel toll hikes, PATH fare increases or major changes in the bistate agency’s capital plan.
“The Port Authority is the linchpin of the multi-billion-dollar transportation infrastructure that is the lifeblood of our region’s economy,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “With the Port Authority playing a lead role on the Gateway Rail Tunnel, the new Port Authority Bus Terminal, PATH expansion and the Newark Airport Terminal A construction, it is critical that we finally adopt these long-overdue reform measures.”
“The Port Authority has made tremendous progress over the past several years under the leadership of previous Chair John Degnan and now under Chair Kevin O’Toole and Executive Director Rick Cotton,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We need to ensure that the new era of accountability they have put in place is permanent, and that we never go back to the era of secret toll hikes and stonewalling that characterized the agency leading up to and including Bridgegate.”
Senator Gordon made a presentation on S-619 at today’s Port Authority Board meeting in Jersey City and has discussed the legislation with New York lawmakers. Once signed into law in New Jersey, the Gordon-Weinberg measure could be adopted by New York through a chapter amendment process that would match New York’s 2016 Port Authority bill with the language in S-619; both states must pass identical Port Authority legislation for the law to take effect.
The Gordon-Weinberg bill takes the first step in the New Jersey legislative process on Monday at 10:30 a.m., when a public hearing will be held by the Senate Transportation Committee in Committee Room 7 in the State House Annex in Trenton.
The Gordon-Weinberg bill would:
- Require an independent needs assessment to be presented at a public meeting at least 90 days prior to approval of any bridge or tunnel toll increase or PATH fare hike, and mandate a minimum of six public hearings at times and locations convenient at least 30 days before enactment of any increase by the Port Authority Board.
- Require the Port Authority to notify the legislatures of both states at least 60 days in advance prior to voting on adoption of its 10-year Capital Plan or any major revision of its capital plan, to hold public hearings in both states prior to its adoption, and to publish an annual report on the status of capital plan projects.
- Establish the right of legislative oversight by requiring Port Authority officials to appear before legislative committees in either state at the request of the presiding officers of the New Jersey or New York Senate or Assembly.
- Require the hiring of independent consultants to monitor major projects with budgets totaling more than $500 million.
- Put into statute a series of Port Authority reforms previously adopted by the Port Authority Board that set out the fiduciary responsibilities, financial disclosure requirements and ethical standards to be met by board members.
- Strengthen whistle blower protections and the ability of the Office of the Inspector-General to investigate wrongdoing.
Unlike legislation previously adopted in New York, the Gordon-Weinberg bill does not make any change in the current management structure under which the Port Authority Board Chair is drawn from the ranks of New Jersey board members and the Executive Director is recommended by the Governor of New York
“The current leadership team of Kevin O’Toole and Rick Cotton is working collaboratively to keep the Port Authority focused on its core transportation mission and has been responsive to the needs of both states and the region as a whole,” said Senator Gordon. “This is not the time to be making leadership changes considering the tremendous challenges we are facing, starting with the urgent need to increase trans-Hudson commuter capacity before the Sandy-damaged North River rail tunnels fail,”
The New Jersey and New York legislatures previously passed bills similar to the Gordon-Weinberg measure twice by a combined vote of 611-0 in the two states.
“This is our third attempt in five years to enact meaningful Port Authority reform legislation, and this time, we hope and believe that the legislation we are proposing will not be vetoed by the governor of either state,” said Senator Weinberg. “This is important legislation that guarantees legislative oversight, gives commuters the right to weigh in on proposed toll or fare hikes, and opens up the Port Authority’s critical capital budgeting process for full public debate. I look forward to seeing it signed into law.”