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May 24, 2016

New Jersey’s Democratic Legislature and the Republican Christie administration have been battling over how much reform is needed at the Port Authority of NY and NJ since the Bridgegate scandal erupted in 2013. The Democrats want the Legislature to have some oversight. Christie says it’s not needed.

So once again yesterday, Christie vetoed reform legislation approved by the Legislature, saying it would be wasteful, protects union workers, and is unnecessary. That’s because there is a competing bill sponsored by Senator Thomas Kean (R-Union) that is identical to one passed by New York State, which Christie supports. In order to take effect, both states must adopt identical legislation.

Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo acted quickly after the Bridgegate scandal to appoint a special panel to look into Port Authority abuses. The panel recommended a series of changes, including a change to the administration of the authority. New York State quickly took up the recommendations and approved them, with Cuomo’s support.

But New Jersey Democrats don’t believe it’s enough. The main sticking point is the lack of legislative oversight. In the past, the state Legislature has asked Port Authority to testify to no avail. Their bill would require testimony, if asked, at least twice a year.

In an effort to make their point, New Jersey has gotten the support of the original New York State sponsor to the legislation, who said he would quickly make sure the New York bill mirrored New Jersey’s if the more robust bill gets passed. But it has yet to pass Christie’s desk. Meanwhile, no reform measures have been codified. The Democrats say they have only one chance to get this right, and so don’t want to approve a weaker bill.

“We need real reform, not a halfhearted effort,” said Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen). He noted that the Port Authority will be responsible for building a new $500 million bus terminal and overseeing the construction of the new multibillion dollar Gateway Rail Tunnel. “It is crucial that we have the ability to monitor the cost and progress of these and other projects on an ongoing basis in the years ahead.”

Christie, however, disagreed, saying that it would interfere with the ability of the Port Authority to root out fraud and waste by enabling Port Authority employees to impede the efforts of the Inspector General.

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