On Monday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released its proposed 2016 capital and operating budgets. According to the Authority’s website,
“The Port Authority Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on the budget and the capital plan at its December 10, 2015 meeting. The Port Authority is soliciting comments, to be shared with the Members of the Board, in advance of the meeting.”
A press release noting a public comment period is not necessarily indicative of an inclusive and transparent public process. Measures that allow for meaningful public review and commentary do help define transparency and accountability. However, the inclusion of the public around planning processes such as replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal or the selection of priority projects such as the LaGuardia Airport redesign and the extension of the PATH train to Newark Airport are examples of how the Port Authority can do much better.
The next opportunity to do better would have been around Monday’s release of the 2016 proposed budgets. However, at a length of 100 pages, it would be a challenge for the average person to review the tables and line items in the budgets in just 11 days, by December 10, 2015. It is also questionable whether the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners, all of whom hold other positions, have enough time to meaningfully review the document and public comments.
By comparison, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) is currently accepting comments for its Draft SFY 2016-17 Unified Planning Work Program which lays out how it and state transportation agencies will work to carry out mandated planning activities. That public comment period is 30 days, with NYMTC’s members subsequently voting on the draft more than two months after the close of the public comment period.
With more time to review the Port Authority’s proposed budget, the public might have time to notice that:
- Capital spending on buses comprises a paltry 2.5 percent ($88.3 million) of overall spending despite a need for improved bus service and the fact that the PABT has been a key topic at several board meetings.
- The highly touted Quality of Commute program “to improve commuter services” will only receive $23 million (of the total $90 million) in 2016.
- $15 million is allocated for a design competition for the new PABT.
- $4 million is allocated for plans to advance the questionable Newark PATH extension.
- The World Trade Center Vehicular Safety Center and Tour Bus Parking Facility are getting 35 percent more money than the PABT despite the terminal moving more passengers than any other Port Authority facility and being a critical component of the overall regional economy.
Maybe it’s just a matter of one commissioner’s assertion that the board doesn’t know what it’s doing, but if that is indeed the case, the Port Authority shouldn’t be allotting such a minuscule time period to review a $7.9 billion budget.