Subtext of a Port Authority Veto: Money, Power and Control

What four different legislative bodies with 612 legislators from two states wanted was a little independent oversight and accountability. What Governors Cuomo and Christie delivered—in the lull between Christmas and New Years when the majority of their constituents were enjoying some well-deserved quiet time—was a veto and a “special report”, both with an ill-disguised subtext: “mine, mine, mine.”

The Port Authority has tripped, badly, over the undue influence of those who currently control it. Letting the public in by enabling more transparency and making sure there is third party oversight is a logical fix to assure balance in governance.

The vetoed bill would have been a solid first step to enhance accountability. It had a seemingly benign list of good government measures, modeled after reforms that had already been enacted in 2005 and 2009 in New York State, that now govern other authorities in the state. The changes to the law would have included:

  • Imposing upon the commissioners an ethical duty of loyalty, care and good faith to the mission of the agency and the public interest in their decision-making;
  • Imposing the open meetings law and the ethics and financial disclosure laws of both states on the agency;
  • Creating independent assessments and holding extensive hearings before a toll increase;
  • Requiring a Whistleblower duty to report fraud, abuse, and corruption to the Port Authority Inspector General;
  • Requiring transparency in capital and operating budgets;
  • An independent analysis on spending efficiency.

However, with a classic political fake out, the Governors masked a simple structural reorganization as governance reform—requesting the resignations of those they appointed to be replaced by a CEO, along with other minor reshufflings of the deck chairs. The special report’s proposed measures have been deemed weaker than a “whitewash” report that found Governor Christie innocent of Bridgegate shenanigans. Governor Cuomo’s veto message claims that the vetoed bill “conflicts” with portions of the report, but it remains unclear how instituting basic transparency measures and whistleblower policies would conflict with better governance.

Money, power and control need independent oversight. Perhaps a viable solution is an entity similar to the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, an entitity that would have the resources and independent oversight, with representatives from New York and New Jersey, to make sure our tax dollars are being spent in the public’s interest.

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