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With Christie in the way, Democrats eye compromise on Port Authority reform

An entrance to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York
An entrance to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York (Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

Democratic lawmakers appear ready to take what they can get on reforms at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, rather than continue to push for more than Gov. Chris Christie wants to support.

Christie this week again conditionally vetoed a proposal to make wide-ranging changes to the Port Authority’s accountability, ethics, governance and transparency bylaws, instead rewriting the bill to make it identical to a law already enacted by the New York legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Watch live, chat during Wednesday's 'Ask the Governor'

 

The vetoed bill included all the changes in the New York law and added legislative oversight, including the ability to subpoena Port Authority executives to appear at legislative hearings each year, as well as other changes such as hiring outside engineering firms to monitor big projects.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr., R-Union, says it’s time for lawmakers to agree with Christie’s veto and set in motion Port Authority reforms and is urging the Senate and Assembly to vote on it at their sessions Thursday.

“Unfortunately I think the Democrats want the issue and not the solution, and it’s important that the taxpayers know we have this opportunity to press for reform,” Kean said.

“We have this opportunity to make sure that we hire the right people at the agency,” Kean said. “We have this opportunity to make sure that the major projects – the Gateway project, the Newark Airport and other entities that are important to the transportation future of New Jersey – can actually have the right type of oversight. And unfortunately they are again delaying this type of reform.”

Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, one of the chief sponsors of the more aggressive reform proposal, called Christie’s veto wrong and deeply disappointing. But he also said the changes in Kean’s bill, and Christie’s veto, would be the most significant reforms done at the Port Authority and is willing to go along with it.

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The bill wasn’t added to the Legislature’s agenda for Thursday, to Kean’s dismay. Legislative leaders want to discuss the issue with their caucuses.

“It’s always been around the next bend,” Kean said. “The taxpayers are crying out for reform. People around the country think that government is inefficient at every level. And to simply delay a solution that everybody has known for a year and a half where we would end up to me makes no sense. It defies common sense.”

“And the taxpayers and the commuters shouldn’t have to wait another month, two months, three months for certainty at the Port Authority,” he said. “It’s too important for the transportation and economic future of the state and of the region.”

Laws affecting the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must be identically approved by both states.

Port Authority working on new 10-year capital plan

 

In addition to the Port Authority bill, Christie also conditionally vetoed bills Monday that would:

  • Limit access to firearms for people convicted of domestic violence or the subject of a domestic violence restraining order. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, called the veto “beyond disappointing.” Christie vetoed the same bill last year.
  • Set the funding allocations for open space programs that benefit from a dedication of corporation business taxes. The veto allows $20 million to be diverted to pay for parks salaries, and it allocates funds for Blue Acres buyouts of flood-prone properties. Christie pocket vetoed the same bill in January.
  • Appropriate $10 million in the current state budget for the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund, which helps owners of older homes reduce lead-paint hazards. Christie already said he would put $10 million from the surplus toward lead programs.
  • Extend welfare benefits to people convicted of drug offenses, so long as they take part in a treatment program or have a valid reason for not doing so. Christie said he’d allow it for people convicted of drug possession but not for drug distribution.

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