(Updates with comment from Republican in third paragraph, Democrat in 10th paragraph.)
By Annie Linskey
Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Republicans in New Jersey’s state Assembly want to establish an independent monitor that would have broad power to investigate bistate authorities to prevent abuses of power like those that led to four days of traffic snarls at the George Washington Bridge.
Their plan would require governors from two states to approve all appointees at director level or above and make fulfilling the agency’s mission a legal obligation of employees. It would require financial disclosure from all appointees and institute ethics training.
“Authorities, especially the Port Authority, are plagued with problems that we want to fix,” Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said today at a news conference in the Statehouse in Trenton.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the George Washington Bridge, has come under criticism from lawmakers since the bridge controversy. The agency yesterday formed an oversight committee to improve governance.
The proposal, which would apply to the Port Authority in the New York area and the Delaware River Port Authority near Philadelphia, would need support from Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature. The initiative also would need approval from other states, said Bramnick, of Westfield.
Attendees at the news conference included three of the four Republicans assigned to a 12-member joint Senate and Assembly panel investigating the traffic snarls. Their proposal wasn’t shared with Democrats before its release.
The committee is trying to determine why allies of Republican Governor Chris Christie ordered a shutdown of access lanes to the bridge from Sept. 9 to 12, causing gridlock in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, has said he believes the tie-ups were meant to punish him because he didn’t endorse the re-election bid of Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
The monitor proposed by Republicans would have subpoena power and the ability to audit and investigate bistate entities. Failure to comply with audits would limit the authorities from issuing bonds.
The agencies would be required to comply with public-records rules in both states. They also would have to report information about contracting, debt and regulatory activity.
State Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck who is co-chairman of the investigative committee, declined to comment on the details of the plan because she hadn’t seen them.
“I will dismiss it as a bit of a publicity stunt,” she said. “If they had proposals they’d like to have the committee address, the best way to do it is give it to the committee. I just find this very frustrating and counterproductive.”