Asm. Wisniewski: Port Authority Problems Stem From Its Culture

In just two weeks, two bills that would force transparency and accountability on the Port Authority could be put to a vote in the state Assembly. They’re identical to bills already passed by the New York legislature that would make Port Authority records more readily public, protect whistle-blowers and require annual reports. But the Deputy Assembly Speaker says the bills aren’t tough enough. Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Assemblyman John Wisniewski told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams he thinks that the Port Authority’s issues reach beyond issues of transparency.

“It’s not that I don’t like them. I think that the problems we have at the Port Authority are far beyond just simple issues of transparency. It’s about culture, it’s about accountability,” said Wisniewski.

Wisniewski said officials need to look at how the Port Authority got to the way it is and evaluate the power of the two governors.

“You start there and you start looking at putting other opinions on the table as of just leaving it to the governors’ opinions. Having other people’s opinions will change the culture but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski said that other opinions could come in the form of legislative appointments or a citizens committee which could be a representation of the users of the Port Authority, which Wisniewski said could consist of people who use the PATH system, toll payers or people who use the ports or airports.

According to Wisniewski, a significant part of the reforms is about accountability. Wisniewski recalls when tolls increased by 50 percent and how all public hearings were held on the same day and during business hours. He says that there cannot be any significant public input if hearings are being done during business hours on one day.

Wisniewski has suggested a complete overhaul of the Port Authority, including both New York and New Jersey. He said that the legislature is going to work very hard and that nobody suggested that it was easy.

Assemblyman Scott Rumana has criticized giving the legislators power to appoint commissioners by saying that “it could create problems of its own.” Wisniewski said that the problems exist because of the way the commissioners are currently appointed.

“We have to try something different because if we continue to allow the agency to exist in the way it has but we expect different results, I think we’re all kidding ourselves,” Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski is also on the select committee investigating the GWB lane closures. When asked if the committee plans to call additional witnesses, Wisniewski said, “Well, we are right now not calling witnesses because the U.S. attorney’s office seems to be very actively engaged in some part of their investigation which we’ve committed not to interfere with. But we stand ready to continue to work on this as soon as we know that there’s certain individuals that right now we’re refraining on calling that we can call.”