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Legislators Investigating Port Authority Question Rate Hike Scheme

3-3-14

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

Investigators want to know whether Port Authority requests to increase tolls were purposely inflated so motorists would accept a more modest increase. And legislators investigating Port Authority operations are asking — how much did Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo know about the alleged scheme?

“This has been a cloud of suspicion since August 2011 when the eight public meetings were jammed down in one day. There was no public input and it was quite a challenge to get to those meetings. It had to be pre-determined because two weeks later, both governors announced toll hikes and they scaled it back a bit,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

“I always thought this was rigged and I always suspected that the governors had sat down with staff and said, ‘We could live with this, but let’s start over here and then we’ll appear we forced the organization to abide by our will,’” said Sen. Bob Gordon.

A Star-Ledger report suggests the toll hike plan was orchestrated by former Port Authority officials, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni — the same Christie appointees who are accused of devising and executing the George Washington Bridge lane closures that snarled traffic for days last September and since then has caused a political firestorm.

“It continues to support secrecy, culture, the secrecy political patronage. It should be a call for a federal monitor. Right now, we need to put the brakes on this immediately. That that agency or authority should be subjected to transparency, oversight,” Huttle said.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman talked about this culture of secrecy on MSNBC.

But her call for the governor to resign caused an uproar and Watson Coleman stepped down from the bipartisan committee investigating the GWB lane closures. Later she questioned why Republican Sen. Kevin O’Toole remains on that committee since his name surfaced in documents subpoenaed by the committee.

All of this adds up to a political firestorm, says Patrick Murray, of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“There’s a lot more dots that start getting connected between this and other things that have been going on such as Bridgegate, such as the Sandy relief effort. The news doesn’t get any better for Christie,” Murray said.

With so many people close to Christie on the hot seat, his approval rating has declined. Pundits say it’s likely going to be rough ride for Christie.