Port Authority Ethics Rules Sought by Bistate Lawmakers

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be required to change the way it raises tolls and deals with corruption and conflicts of interest under a bill being pushed by lawmakers in both states.

A news conference had been scheduled today to announce the plan, said New York Assemblyman Jim Brennan, a Brooklyn Democrat. It was canceled at the last minute because the bill wasn’t ready, according to Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, both New Jersey Democrats.

The changes are meant to restructure the 93-year-old agency, which is at the center of investigations into New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration, Brennan said in an interview. In September, David Wildstein, an official charged with carrying out Christie’s agenda at the agency, shut lanes at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor didn’t endorse the Republican governor’s re-election.

“This is a comprehensive elevation of the ethical standards under which board members, officers and employees operate as well as an enhancement of transparency and accountability,” Brennan said of the plan. “It will deal with the difficulties between the two states that led to Bridgegate.”

A similar bill was approved by the New York Assembly the past two years and a version was passed by the New Jersey legislature in 2012, Brennan said. The latter measure was vetoed by Christie, he said.

Toll Increases

Under the new plan, increases in tolls would require an independent assessment 120 days before they go into effect and public hearings 30 days prior, Brennan said. In March, the Record newspaper reported that Wildstein and Baroni devised a plan that called for the agency to increase tolls by $6 in 2011 so that the governors could scale it back, allowing them to take credit for protecting commuters.

Lawyers for Christie, 51, said in an internal report that he wasn’t aware of the lane-closing plot. Yet the episode has put under scrutiny the operations of the authority, which runs the area’s three major airports, four bridges, a bus terminal, commuter rail, two tunnels, ports and the World Trade Center site.

The revelations sparked state and federal investigations and the resignations of three Port Authority officials: Wildstein, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and Chairman David Samson. Reports of conflict of interest, political abuse and interstate rivalry have also spawned efforts by Port Authority commissioners and the governors to restructure the agency.

Both States

Under the bill in the New York legislature, a mix of ethics laws from both states would be applied to board members and employees of the agency.

The measure also would require an annual report on how appointees from each state are communicating and cooperating, which is meant to eliminate the bistate rivalry.

Brennan said he was on his way to Fort Lee for the press conference when he learned it had been called off.

“Today’s news conference has been postponed as we continue to complete work on bistate bipartisan legislation that will finally bring clearly needed reform to the Port Authority,” Gordon and Vainieri Huttle said by e-mail. “We are committed to implementing effective binding reforms that will make the Port Authority operate with more transparency and greater accountability.”

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