The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be required to provide greater public access and reduce the benefits received by its employees under bills released by an Assembly committee on Thursday.
Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee Chairman John S. Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) said he was disappointed that no Port Authority officials attended the hearing.
“There’s an abysmal level of transparency at the Port Authority,” Wisniewski said.
The committee released four bills that impose requirements on the agency: One would require an independent audit of the authority and increase requirements for public meetings, another would require it to make payments in lieu of property taxes to municipalities where it owns land, the third bill imposes restrictions on perks for authority workers and officials and the fourth requires the authority to submit its board minutes to the New Jersey and New York legislatures for approval.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri (D-Englewood) expressed disappointment that public hearings over a toll hike last summer were limited and held during the day. She sponsored the bill that would increase the number of hearings to at least 10 and require hearings at night for future toll-hike proposals.
“We must require transparency and accountability,” she said. She is working with a Republican state senator in New York, Andrew J. Lanza, to pass a similar measure in the Empire State.
Assemblyman David W. Wolfe (R-Brick) questioned the need for 10 meetings, though he said he agreed with the overall goal of increasing transparency. Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf (R-Forked River), meanwhile, said the state should pass a similar measure affecting other bistate agencies — like the Delaware River Port Authority — rather than focusing just on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Rumpf also questioned whether Wisniewski was demonizing the agency, describing it as an “evil empire.”
Wisniewski responded: “I did not call the Port Authority the evil empire. I wish I had, but I didn’t.”
The Democratic chairman and Republican members also differed over whether authority officials had sufficient time to reply to Wisniewski’s invitation on Jan. 27 to attend the hearing.
The bills received the support of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has questioned public access to the authority’s truck replacement policy, and environmental groups.
The proposal by Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos Jr. (D-Hoboken) to require the authority to make payments in lieu of taxes to municipalities where it owns land was opposed by the Republican committee members, who questioned whether additional costs imposed on the authority would lead to greater toll increases.