Suddenly, a Port Authority Reform Bill From the New York Legislature

By David Cruz

In the last few days before the New York Legislature went on a five-month break, sources say Gov. Andrew Cuomo gathered legislative leaders and presented them with a Port Authority reform bill close to, but not exactly like, the bill passed by both legislatures last year. Sen. Bob Gordon, who worked on the last bill, has some concerns about this one.

“We’re just afraid Gov. Cuomo is trying to take over the agency,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we think he literally rammed this bill through the final days of the session.”

There’s a lot in there to like, though, says Gordon.

The bill calls for:

— Rotating chairmanships, with New York getting the first two-year term.

–Eliminating the divided leadership structure. No more deputy executive directors.

— Appointing a chief ethics officer.

— Requiring an annual report on the agency’s operations, accomplishments and finances.

— Protections for whistleblowers.

— And requiring commissioners to take fiduciary oaths, and make financial disclosures.

What’s not in it, says Gordon, is a revised mission statement, which has allowed the agency to get into as much real estate as port management and transportation. No legislative oversight, meaning no power to subpoena Port Authority officials and, he says, gives too much power to New York to set priorities.

“We’ve just seen a proposal by Gov. Cuomo to spend $400 million on an entryway and a shopping mall at LaGuardia,” he noted, “while we’re concerned about leaking ceilings at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.”

“You have to come to compromise positions and oftentimes a bill will move forward that maybe was your original idea or concept that somebody else grabs from you,” countered Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a member of the joint legislative committee that investigated the GWB lane closures. “It morphs, it changes but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad bill.”

Gov. Chris Christie supported the effort in a statement, which read, in part: “I urge New Jersey’s Legislature to introduce and pass this bill … so that we can finally meet the standard for reform laid out by Gov. Cuomo and me last year: a real, fundamental and long-lasting re-imagining of the Port Authority.”

But Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who’s been banging the Port Authority reform drum for years, says this bill isn’t the worst bill she’s ever seen, but laments the time she says has been wasted.

“It was difficult, but we got it done,” she said of the first reform bill. “The only people who stood in its way were the two governors. It was passed unanimously in two states, four houses, so we got it done before.”

With two weeks left in the fiscal year, lawmakers are focused on budget issues, but Weinberg says she’s ready to tweak the bill, if necessary, and send it back to New York for another vote.

Lawmakers here say they want to take their time to look over the New York bill. The song goes you can’t always get what you want. It remains to be seen if — after further deliberation — lawmakers realize that this bill gets them just what they need.