Disagreement over Port Authority reform continues
A long-running effort by New Jersey and New York to pass the same legislation to overhaul the powerful bistate agency that controls the region's airports, bridges and tunnels failed to advance on Thursday.
The two states must pass the same measure for the changes, including whistleblower protections and the establishment of a rotating chairmanship between New York and New Jersey, to take effect, but the states have failed to work out their differences since New York lawmakers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Gov. Chris Christie backed the changes in June.
New York's Legislature and Cuomo have agreed to a bill that mirrors a proposal from New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., which Christie has also said he supports.
On Thursday a New Jersey Senate panel approved a Democrat-backed reform measure that is similar but not identical to that bill. The biggest difference is a provision that calls for legislative oversight of the agency, which has an $8 billion budget and was at the center of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal that resulted in former agency officials being indicted.
Democrats say the scandal shows why oversight is needed.
"No agency in the United States needs more oversight than the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey," said Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who sponsored the legislation.
But Kean argued state lawmakers already have the power to approve subpoenas of agency officials, if they choose to. He argued the best chance for reform is to advance his own bill because it mirrors what New York already has approved.
"We're beyond a policy debate on this issue," Kean said. "No more excuses."
Democrats countered that while it's possible to subpoena officials they think it's important for that power to be specified in the reform legislation.
Efforts at reform stretch back at least four years, lawmakers say. The legislation took a leap forward in 2014 when both state legislatures unanimously passed overhaul measures. But Cuomo and Christie vetoed those bills and instead recommended changes including the creation of a single chief executive.
Reform efforts got back on track in June when the Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, and New York's Legislature agreed on a single bill, but New Jersey's Legislature has declined to take up the measure.
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