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Port Authority Perks Would End, Transparency Increased Under New Bill [AUDIO]

A bill aimed at enhancing legislative oversight and public transparency at the New York/New Jersey Port Authority (PANYNJ) has been approved by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images

The bi-state agency’s deputy executive director was a surprise guest at the hearing and he is blasting the legislation.

The measure would require; an independent auditing of the Port Authority; open public meetings and the publication of minutes of the meetings of the authority’s Board of Commissioners; public hearings to be held in the port district of New York and New Jersey to discuss any proposed fee, toll, charge or fare increase; the establishment of audit, finance and governance committees; financial disclosures and training for commissioners; financial reports certified by the chair and vice-chair of the board of Commissioners of the Port Authority and the executive director, deputy executive director and chief financial officer of the authority; and the creation of a fiduciary responsibility for commissioners.

PANYNJ deputy executive director Bill Baroni says, “This bill is redundant. This bill is political and this bill is dangerous.”

Baroni claims it is redundant because the agency is already doing most of the things listed in the bill. He says it’s political because the legislature certainly didn’t require this level of scrutiny when former Governor Jon Corzine’s toll hikes were approved.

The bill is dangerous says Baroni because one clause requires the PANYNY to make available to the public meeting agendas and public documents provided to the board at least five business days before each meeting of the board and each meeting of each committee. He says if that’s not possible it could delay important projects for as long as six weeks before the next scheduled board meeting.

“It’s not reform, it’s a press release,” says Baroni.

Another bill cleared by the committee would eliminate or sharply curtail spending associated with everything from official perks such as free tolls, luxury car stipends and housing allowances to chauffeurs and government-issued credit cards. They would impose strict new ethics rules, such as a revolving-door policy banning officials from working with certain private employers for two years after leaving their government job, and create new standards of transparency and accountability.

Senator Donald Norcross sponsors the measure. He explains, “We’re not in the business of providing luxury housing for employees or limos or chauffeurs. We understand that it’s a public job and it’s time to do the public’s business.”

In September, tolls were increased at the Hudson River Crossings by $4. Norcross says, “It’s not fair when you’re paying and the guy next to you who happens to work there is getting a free pass, laterally and we want to stop that.”

A series of increasingly alarming reports in recent months have drawn sharp criticisms about how the multi-billion dollar agency conducts its business. Concerns have been raised over overtime costs in excess of $90 million; contradicting statements about where the majority of the money raised by the agency’s September toll hike was being spent; $4 million in Christie administration patronage hires; and borderline-ridiculous levels of perks for authority members and retirees.

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