Christie, Rendell to Audit Delaware River Authority

The governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey called for audits of the Delaware River Port Authority after other public officials criticized the bi-state toll-bridge agency’s employee perks.

Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, a Republican, issued statements yesterday recommending that the DRPA eliminate free toll privileges and car allowances for board members and employees. Christie also wants to require the agency’s board to approve all charitable contributions, vote publicly on contracts and strengthen its anti-nepotism and conflict-of-interest policies.

“It is imperative that each of these reforms be implemented without delay,” Christie said in a letter to the DRPA’s chairman and vice chairman. “We will continue to scrutinize the actions of the DRPA for adherence to all of these reforms, and I will not hesitate to exercise my veto authority over any DRPA board action that does not conform.”

The DRPA’s Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry and Betsy Ross bridges, which link New Jersey and Pennsylvania, take in about $240 million in toll revenue a year. The authority has lost more than $60 million in derivatives bets, according to its financial documents. The transactions were set up to raise cash to support economic-development projects such as a new stadium for the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Free Pass

The authority’s chief executive officer, former New Jersey state Senator John Matheussen, still runs the agency even though his contract expired July 17. His continued tenure will be determined by his response to the criticism facing the DRPA, Christie said at a press conference in Morris County yesterday.

Matheussen said he sent written responses to both governors.

“My response was they will receive our 110 percent cooperation,” he said in a telephone interview today. “We look forward to the changes.”

The authority’s public-safety director, Michael Joyce, resigned his $180,000-a-year post earlier this week after a three-day suspension for allowing his daughter to use a DRPA-issued E-ZPass transponder to get free trips over authority bridges, according to Danelle Hunter, a spokeswoman for the authority.

‘Magic Money Tree’

“This is not paid for by some magic money tree,” Christie told reporters today in Trenton. “This is paid for by toll money from the people of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Both of us trust the DRPA is going to implement these reforms in short order.”

John Dougherty, a business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who is among five Pennsylvania commissioners on the authority board, has publicly questioned the board’s public-meetings practices and the use of car allowances in calculating the future pension payments of a DRPA officer.

Hunter declined to respond immediately to questions about the DRPA’s car allowances and the governors’ proposals.

The authority, which had about $1.1 billion in debt outstanding according to its 2009 annual report, was placed on negative outlook by Moody’s Investors Service in March over concerns about its variable-rate debt. Moody’s rated the debt at the fourth-lowest investment grade, A3.

(Updates with authority CEO comment in sixth and seventh paragraphs.)
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