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Breaking Up PA Would Solve Christie's Transportation Trust Fund Problem

He noted that the Christie-commissioned internal investigation of Bridgegate led by former New York City Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro only recommended that states be given more responsibility over their own projects. That is what Cuomo called for during his State of the State speech when he announced that his transportation department would be taking over control of work at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports because he was displeased with the Port Authority’s progress.

However, while the Mastro report recommended a bistate commission to suggest reforms to the Port Authority’s structure, the report also said: “If the Governors were to reach agreement on fundamental changes, they could go to their respective State Legislatures immediately to take such reforms.”

Fundamental Agreement

And Cuomo and Christie are clearly in agreement not only that each state’s governors should have authority over issues in their own states, but that fundamental change is coming. “I don’t think there’s any question that structural changes are a possibility,” Cuomo said, adding that dissolution of the agency is “very complex, because the entire legal and financing mechanism that exists has an asset base that is now a bistate asset base,” and therefore, “it’s much easier said than done.”

Most important, however, Capital New York reported that Cuomo seemed to question the very need for a regional agency in his Saturday conference call.

“The Port is now more about running individual activities in two different states as opposed to joint and regional activities,” Cuomo noted, adding that there are fewer large-scale bistate projects than there were in the past when the Port Authority built bridges and tunnels linking the two states. “You have fewer of those now and you have for quite a bit of time.”

One of the reasons there is no major joint project on the horizon is Christie’s 2010 cancellation of the ARC rail passenger tunnel that would have doubled rush-hour rail commuter capacity between New Jersey and New York City. It was in the planning for 17 years and would have been the largest public works project in the nation. Citing fears about cost overruns, Christie turned back a $3 billion federal grant and eventually agreed to repay the federal government $94 million for tunnel work that had been wasted.

The ARC tunnel cancellation helped make Christie a national Republican hero and led other Republican governors to reject federal grants to build modern rail lines linking major cities in Ohio, Wisconsin. and Florida.

But Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, charged at the time that Christie cancelled the ARC Tunnel so that he could divert billions of dollars in Port Authority and Turnpike toll revenue earmarked for the project and instead provide pay-as-you-go funding for the five-year $8 billion reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund in 2011.

Whether Christie was justified in his fear of cost overruns and whether he knew he was going to use the Port Authority and Turnpike toll money to fund the TTF is now the subject of subpoenas issued by the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Investigation, which Wisniewski co-chairs. The panel also has subpoenaed documents pertaining to the massive 2011 toll hike that is raising tolls on the six Port Authority-owned bridges and tunnels from $8 to $15 by 2015.

Robins and Doig both noted that Port Authority officials in 2011 were reluctant to approve Christie’s diversion plan, which he used to pay for the current reconstruction of the Pulaski Skyway and several other projects, arguing that the Port Authority did not have the legal authority to allow for payment of projects not technically falling under its jurisdiction.

The Record yesterday quoted a memo from Carlene McIntyre, assistant general counsel to the Port Authority, asserting that there was “absolutely no support” for the Christie administration’s insistence that the Port Authority could simply “write a check” to the Transportation Trust Fund.

“Just as the Port Authority cannot give money to a municipal government to plug a hole in their municipal budget (a structural deficit like the city of Newark’s), neither can the Port Authority expend Port Authority funds to plug a hole in the TTF’s operational expense budget,” McIntyre wrote.

Back to Bill

It was Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee as deputy executive director of the Port Authority -- who resigned in December before his role in squelching public disclosure of the Bridgegate lane closures was known -- who led the charge inside the agency to find legal grounds to allow the diversion of the Port Authority funds, The Record reported.

The $1.8 billion allocated over five years by the Port Authority turned out to be the only pay-as-you-go funding that actually went into transportation capital projects over the past four years.

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For the third year in a row, with state revenues coming in below projections, Christie has broken his January 6, 2011, promise to use the New Jersey Turnpike money freed up from his cancellation of the ARC Tunnel project to ramp up pay-as-you-go funding and reduce borrowing for the Transportation Trust Fund.

Based on the 2011 schedule, this fourth-year budget for Fiscal Year 2015 was to include $324 million in Turnpike toll revenue, plus $166 million from general state revenues, for a total of $490 million in pay-as-you-go funding for highway, rail and bridge construction projects.

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