The New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office recently released a report that found the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) wasted millions of dollars worth of toll money; allowed workers, commissioners and family members to have free rides over its four bridges; and donated money to organizations tied to its commissioners. DRPA CEO John Matheussen told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desiree Taylor that his organization has made changes since the report to address concerns.
Matheussen said the DRPA board and staff welcomed the opportunity for constructive criticism from the comptroller, particularly in the area of economic development. “Those things are important to any organization and we’ve taken them very seriously and our board has acted on them as a staff and we move ahead,” he said.
Part of the report alleged that some individuals treated the DRPA like a personal ATM, which Matheussen said was taken very seriusly. “Some of those actions took place many years ago and we’re making certain that they never occur again,” he said.
A big portion of the mismanagement of funds was related to economic development spending. Matheussen said much of the economic spending had been done before 2003, when he started at the DRPA. He said one of his first tasks was to balance the $15 million budget that was already looking overspent in April. Matheussen attributes the organization being over budget because of money spent to fund economic development projects.
Matheussen said the DRPA has successfully gotten its budget under control. “Since 2003 to 2011 we’ve paid down some $200 million worth of that debt even though the revenue coming in was very, very short comparatively speaking. The first $100 million of all money that we took in had to be paid just for debt service, never mind paying down the actual principle of the debt,” he said. “So frankly, I was very relieved when the board made its final decision to be out of the economic development business.”
While Matheussen said the economic development projects were beneficial to the Philadelphia metropolitan area and might not have happened without DRPA funding, he said the organization will better serve its customers without spending toll money on those types of projects. “Rather, they would apply those dollars to reducing our debt and to fixing our bridges and making certain that the PATCO high speed lines … were safe, secure and serviceable,” he said.
Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell called for a number of DRPA reforms, which the organization has implemented according to Matheussen. “From a practical standpoint, day-to-day application, almost — if not all — of the reforms have been enacted,” he said. “Things like our employees no longer being able to cross the bridge during their work hours to come back and forth to work for free.”
Changes aren’t enacted immediately because the DRPA is a bi-state authority. “That compact is voted on by the two states — New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and then ratified by the Congress of the United States and frankly signed by the president,” Matheussen said. “So they may take a little bit of time to implement but it’s our highest priority to make certain that number one, we are in fact following all the spirits of all the resolutions that were passed in terms of any types of reforms.”