The Real Deal New York

Committee explores Port Authority reforms

Concerns prompt efforts to lessen sway of politics in two-state agency
March 17, 2014 04:10PM

In the wake of Bridgegate, a special oversight committee is probing the possible need for a rethink of the way the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey conducts business, revamping the process for deciding how toll and airport revenue is spent on infrastructure projects like the World Trade Center PATH hub.

The agency has long faced questions about potential conflicts of interest and recusals, the Wall Street Journal reported. But changes to the politically-tinged approach to setting agendas would only come across if Trenton and Albany created “independent lines of power” within the authority, Commissioner William Schuber said in the oversight committee’s first meeting last month.

Disagreements about how to spend toll and airport revenue on the financing of large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the rebuilding of the World Trade Center complex, have in the past triggered calls for reform — or even the disbanding of the authority. Still, no real attempt has been made to pull La Guardia and John F. Kennedy International airports from the authority since former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought to do so during his term.

One suggestion for revamping the agency would discontinue the practice in which the states’ governors appoint board members and also select the agency’s top directors.

“This notion that the executive director comes from New York and the chairman (of the board) comes from New Jersey — that’s tradition,” a former Port Authority official told the Journal. “It’s not like it’s in statute anywhere.”

A spokesperson for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told the Journal that he is “open to the idea of further reforms at the Port Authority, so long as those proposals are guided by facts and findings — not politics.” A spokesperson for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment. [WSJ]Julie Strickland