TRANSPORTATION

Do lawmakers have a chance to get a new Port Authority reform bill signed?

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

“You know, sitting in this room, it brings me back to the days of the Special Committee on Investigations,” recalled Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “Some of us on this committee was present.”

Yes, those halcyon days of Bridgegate, when the Port Authority seemed on the run, and lawmakers were on the verge of sweeping reforms at the bi-state agency. It was a heavy lift to get both houses in New Jersey and New York to agree on the exact same bill. And get the governors of both states to sign it. It almost worked, except that one governor – Chris Christie – vetoed it. That was years ago, though. Today, lawmakers gave a green light to another try.

“We have a new governor,” added Huttle. “We have a new board at the Port Authority. Many of the suggestions that were in the prior bills are being regulated as far as transparency and accountability, so we’re getting better.”

But, Huttle says with new capital projects on the horizon, including terminals at Newark and LaGuardia, a new Port Authority Bus Terminal and, one of these days, the Gateway Tunnel, Huttle says its critical to get increased legislative oversight to make sure both states benefit. The bill would give lawmakers subpoena power and compel top agency officials to be available to testify when called. It also requires the Port Authority to give notice before certain borrowing or adopting a new capital plan. It also calls for an independent assessment before any toll or fare hikes are enacted.

“I’m talking with [New York] Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who was working with us on the first bill,” said Huttle. “She is now the new chair of Transportation, which is a help. I spoke to her yesterday and we’re on board in trying to set a goal for June.”

Republican Assemblyman Anthony Bucco shares Huttle’s optimism.

“Well, we can always hope,” he said. “This is legislation that’s long overdue. We’ve seen the problems that exist at the Port Authority. Hopefully, this legislation will clean it up.”

The bipartisan showing is encouraging but not unprecedented. Reining in the Port Authority is a mission both parties have gotten behind. Remember, Republic Assemblywoman Amy Handlin calling out the agency for spending “almost a million dollars an hour”?

The Governor’s Office didn’t get back to us Thursday, but during the campaign Gov. Phil Murphy had expressed general support for the goals of reform at the Port Authority. He’ll need to be fully on board – and bring his bill-signing pen – if this third try is going to be the charm and not just strike three.