ALBANY – Gov. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie teamed up Saturday to kill legislation designed to reform the much maligned Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Rather than sign the bill supporters say would have opened the bi-state agency to much needed transparency and accountability, the two governors crossed party lines to announce they would push a reform package recommended Saturday by a panel they had created earlier this year.
But the bill’s Assembly sponsor James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) and other critics argued there was no justification for the veto of legislation passed unanimously by the legislatures in both states.
Some, like former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who in 2009 sponsored a public authorities reform bill that did not cover the Port Authority, suggested Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, were more interested in protecting their own power than actually reforming the agency.
“It’s shameful,” Brodsky said. “They ripped the heart out of real reform in order to maintain their control and power.”
The vetoed bill has been around since 2012, but finally was approved by lawmakers this year in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal dogging Christie.
New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said the vetoes were a slap in the face to commuters who “rightly expected more from the governors after the revelations at the Port Authority over the last year.”
Unlike the reforms the two governors said they would push, the legislation they vetoed would have treated the PA like other public authorities in New York by legally requiring commissioners to put the agency’s fiduciary responsibility first. It would also have required better financial disclosure and conflicts of interest reporting by board members, as well as make the PA subject to open meetings law.
Cuomo and Christie say the reforms they are recommending embrace “the spirit and intent” of the legislation. Many of their key proposals would need to be enacted by the same legislatures whose bills just got vetoed.
The governors said they will ask every Port Authority commissioner to tender their resignations so they can decide whether to keep them. The two also propose replacing the setup where the executive director of the agency is appointed by the New York governor and the deputy executive by the New Jersey governor — something that many say has created political fiefdoms. Instead, there would be a single chief executive officer.
The board chairman’s role would either be modified with the creation of co-chairs or a rotating chairmanship between the two states on an annual basis.
Other suggested changes include the creation of a chief ethics and compliance officer.
Cuomo and Christie did sign separate legislation making the Port Authority subject to the public records laws in both states.”
These changes reflect the need for a profound and necessary reimagining of the Port Authority governing structure, operations, and transparency in its oversight of the world’s largest transportation and commerce network,” said Christie.
But critics suggest the recommendations were meant as a smokescreen to distract from the vetoes.
“Power trumped good government,” Brodsky said.