TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski on Thursday introduced a Concurrent Resolution calling on Congress to re-examine the organizational structure and operating procedures of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take steps that end the problems that contribute to the dysfunctional practices that have plagued the bi-state agency. Acting in the wake of the controversy surrounding the sudden and ill-explained closure of two traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge, Senator Weinberg and Assemblyman Wisniewski said a review of the Port Authority is needed to get at the root causes of the lack of accountability and transparency at the authority.
“The Congressional Government Accountability Office issued a report four months ago condemning the Port Authority for its failure to be transparent or accountable,” said Senator Weinberg. “Recent events show that these failings have not been corrected. The sudden lane closings to the bridge and the defiant refusal to provide any accounting exposed what must be systemic problems at a multi-billion dollar agency responsible for managing the most important transportation resources in the bi-state area. We have to get at the root causes and make whatever reforms are needed.”
Public testimony by Port Authority officials, the disclosure of internal documents and the ongoing failure to account for the actions of its employees have revealed a divided organizational structure that compromises effective management.
“When dealing with a labyrinthine agency like the Port Authority, where the budget surpasses that of 26 other states, no amount of oversight is too small,” said Assemblyman Wisniewski. “Toll payers are already bearing far too hefty of a burden. To subject them to unjustified inconveniences like the September lane closures only adds insult to injury. Until we have definitive answers as to why and how this occurred, tri-state commuters will still be vulnerable to the whimsies of an agency shrouded in secrecy.”
The Port Authority was created pursuant to congressional approval.
The prior review of the agency was triggered by a plan to increase tolls announced in August of 2011 and approved with hearings held on one day with little public notice. The GAO – and Senator Weinberg and Assemblyman Wisniewski – criticized the process for failing to engage or adequately inform the public.
The Port Authority commissioned its own audit and pledged to make organizational and operational improvements.
The Legislature attempted to require the Port Authority to improve its practices by passing a bill that would set standards for greater accountability and transparency, S-1761, but the measure was stripped of all its meaningful provisions in a conditional veto by the governor.
“The Port Authority has often acted as though it’s the 51st state,” said Senator Weinberg. “It needs to recognize that it is a public agency that should be responsive in its interactions with the public, transparent in its decision-making process and accountable for its actions.”
“We welcome any federal assistance that might help put an end to this lack of accountability and the unchecked abuse of power that has jeopardized public safety,” said Assemblyman Wisniewski.
A Concurrent Resolution requires the approval of both houses of the Legislature but does not go the governor.