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Senate Democrats Want To Ensure Port Authority Remains Open To Public

Senator Cunningham listens to advice from colleague Senator Sacco

TRENTON – The Senate Transportation Committee today approved a bill, S-1641, sponsored by Senators Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Nicholas Sacco, both D-Hudson, designed to force the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to statutorily end its secretive decision-making processes that have involved billions of dollars annually.

“The culture of the Port Authority has been nurtured historically behind closed doors with top-down decision making considered the norm,” said Senator Cunningham. “This bill will help the agency open-up by statute well beyond the cosmetic improvements it has made just recently.”

“I commend the Board of the Port Authority for recently amending its bylaws and publishing its agendas for public meetings, but this bill would lock in the openness that less-enlightened future boards could abandon at will,” said Senator Sacco, the Chairman of the Committee.

The Cunningham-Sacco bill would subject the bi-state agency to the transparency standards imposed by New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Law including 48-hour advance notices of meetings, recorded minutes and the right of all members of the public to be present at meetings of the agency. New York would have to enact an identical law to activate the measure.

The Cunningham-Sacco proposal emerged after published reports in 2006 revealed the Port Authority routinely made most major financial and policy decisions behind closed doors because its 1921 compact did not require open public meetings.

“Obviously, not all of what might have been tolerated in 1921 is acceptable in the 21st Century,” said Senator Cunningham. “Despite recent changes at the agency to improve its public image, the facts are clear that the longstanding legacy of the Port Authority has been one of secrecy.”

“It makes sense for an agency with a $6 billion annual budget and with responsibility for security and operations at our region’s major airports, bridges, tunnels and transit systems to function under the full light of public scrutiny,” Senator Sacco said.

Prior to the internal changes at the Port Authority, published reports disclosed that the agency awarded a $1.1 billion construction contract for the Ground Zero PATH Station behind closed doors and secretly granted staff pay increases and hired retired agency executives.

The committee vote was unanimous and the measure now awaits a Senate floor vote.