ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Saturday that they have vetoed legislation intended to help clean up the troubled Port Authority.
The governors instead proposed alternate measures they said would go farther in bringing accountability to the agency.
The bill the governors vetoed would have created an office of inspector general and required annual audits of the agency. It also would have restricted lobbying, created a whistleblower protection program and required Port Authority board members to swear they would act in good faith.
The bill passed the state legislatures this year.
Cuomo and Christie instead endorsed a reorganization recommended by the Bi-State Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority. That legislation would create a single chief executive officer for the agency and modify the role of the chairperson.
Currently, the Port Authority is administered by an executive director and a deputy executive director. It is also governed by a chair and vice chair, which the governors advised replacing with two co-chairs – one recommended by each governor and elected by the Board of Commissioners.
Alternately, the governors advised rotating the chairmanship of the Port Authority between New York and New Jersey on an annual basis.
Cuomo and Christie have also asked each and every current commissioner to offer his or her resignation, among an assortment of other changes.
The agency’s most recent scandal involved the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge for alleged political payback.
Supporters of the vetoed bill have accused the governors of opposing common-sense reforms.
“It’s really just an awful thing for them to do. Neither of them can ever stand up and say they’re for effective reform,” said former New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat, who had predicted the veto. “In a competition between effective reform and power, power won. Reform ends on Christmas, but scandals go on forever.”
The bill would have required approval in both states to take effect.
New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg said the decision was a “cop-out,” and Assemblyman John Wisniewski said he’s disappointed the bill didn’t become law.
Some Democratic lawmakers explicitly connected the issue to the Bridgegate scandal — Weinberg said the closures underscored the need for reform — but the legislation reaches back further than that. An internal audit report in 2012 called the agency “challenged and dysfunctional,” and lawmakers of both parties said it has operated with too little oversight for too long.
The New Jersey State Ethics Commission is also investigating whether former authority chairman David Samson improperly used his post to benefit his law firm’s clients. On Wednesday, Samson dropped a lawsuit against the commission in which he claimed it had no jurisdiction over the chairman since it’s a two-state agency.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both states held a news conference in Manhattan to call on the governors to sign the legislation, saying that the transparency measures would act as a disinfectant for the agency.
A Port Authority spokesman has declined to discuss the legislation in the past, saying the agency does not generally address legislation that could affect it.
The Port Authority, which had a $2.9 billion operating budget in 2014, oversees airports, bridges and tunnels in New York and New Jersey, including John F. Kennedy International Airport, the George Washington Bridge and the Holland Tunnel.
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