Senate Legislative Committee Hears Testimony on Proposed Port Authority Reform

NJ Spotlight News | September 10, 2015 | Politics

By Michael Hill

Senators at this legislative hearing complain New York lawmakers approved a Port Authority reform bill with no legislative oversight. But one New Jersey senator says Garden State lawmakers still have oversight authority and should adopt NY’s bill — otherwise reform efforts could drag on for a few more years.

“Do you think we shouldn’t pass a bill because it doesn’t have a 100 percent of what we want or do we want to keep doing this for the next year or more because you know that’s what it’s going to be,” said Sen. Joe Kyrillos.

“Having spent almost two years going to Port Authority meetings where I expected New Jersey commissioners to speak up and speak out and those that were there and still there were silent, never asked a question,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie rejected reforms both New York and New Jersey lawmakers unanimously approved.

So, legislators are back at it, insisting on transparency, accountability and oversight in the wake of the United Airlines resignations amid a federal probe in to United’s dealings with the Port Authority. Part of the probe, United’s “chairman’s flight” to accommodate former Port Authority chairman David Samson’s trips to his South Carolina weekend home.

Lawmakers say with oversight.

“I don’t think we would have seen a chairman’s flight to Columbia, South Carolina take place. Enough public scrutiny to provide a check against these things,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.

“As events over the past couple of years indicate, reform of the policies and procedures at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is imperative,” said Transportation Consulting Services Martin Robins.

Speakers took issue with the $1.5 billion plan for a direct PATH link from Wall Street to Newark airport — where United is the dominant airline — when other projects are more pressing.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a lack of funding but a lack of prioritization and knowing how to spend the money that they have,” said Tri State Transportation Campaign NJ Advocate Janna Chernetz.

“I’m not saying cancel project. Put it on hold until we have all the findings from both the federal government and United Airlines private internal investigation,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

What becomes crystal clear from these legislative hearings is that New Jersey lawmakers have a problem with the Port Authority owning real estate and spending billions of dollars on it.

“These project don’t reflect the charter of the Port Authority from 1921. It was to move goods and people,” said Gordon.

Also at issue — whether New York gets more from the Port Authority than New Jersey.

“And then we have to talk about NJ’s fair share and making sure that the investments the Port Authority is making is benefiting New Jersey as equally as it is benefiting New York. What’s going on right now of the realignment of gates at the Port Authority bus terminal it’s a band aid on a gaping wound. It’s moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. We need a new Port Authority bus terminal,” said Utility and Transportation Contractors Association Executive Director Anthony Attanasio.

The oversight committee has two more hearings planned and anticipates hearing from commuters and Port Authority executives.

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