June 24, 2015

Assembly Passes Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions James Brennan today announced legislation that would enact the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 (A8298, Brennan).

"Thousands of people use the Port Authority's services every day. Because of this, reforms need to be made to ensure resources are being properly managed and the needs of New York and New Jersey residents are being met. This bill would implement stronger accountability and transparency measures for the Port Authority and the people who run it," said Speaker Heastie. "New Yorkers want transparency, they want to know where the Port Authority's multi-billion dollar budget is being spent. This bill is a step toward that."

"This bill is a major victory for residents of New York and New Jersey who depend on the Port Authority everyday as they go to work and visit their families, and will help the Port Authority operate and invest in an accountable and transparent manner," said Assemblymember Brennan. "The reform measures included in the bill are a major step towards making sure that the Port Authority lives up to a high standard and evolves the authority to better handle the challenges of tomorrow."

In August 2011, Governors Cuomo and Christie required the Port Authority to undergo a comprehensive audit of its finances and operations which asserted the Port Authority was a "dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership." In 2012, the Assembly began its effort to achieve meaningful reform at the Port Authority by passing the first comprehensive reform bill of the Port Authority. Then in 2013, the scandal around the closing of the traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge solidified the need for comprehensive reform at the Port Authority. In 2014, Cuomo and Christie created the bi-state Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority to further review and make recommendations on the future role and functionality of the Port Authority. Despite efforts from the Legislatures of New York and New Jersey to see a comprehensive reform bill which applied the Public Authorities Accountability Act of 2005 and the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009 to the Port Authority signed into law, the Governors of New York and New Jersey vetoed that bill at the end of 2014.

However, with the numerous public scandals at the Port Authority, it is apparent that further action needs to be taken. Today's legislation codifies previous reforms into law and further addresses recommendations by the Special Panel.

Under this legislation, a Chief Executive Officer would be appointed to replace the separate management that was provided by the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director. Board Chairperson and Vice Chairperson positions would rotate for a term of two years between the states, starting with Governor Cuomo appointing a Chairperson and Governor Christie appointing a Vice Chairperson. Commissioners would be required to sign a statement declaring their fiduciary obligation to exercise independent judgment and act in the best interest of the Port Authority, its mission, and the public. The bill would also prohibit a Commissioner from serving as the Port Authority's Chief Executive Officer or as any other officer while serving as a Commissioner.

Other provisions included in the act would:

Additionally, the Port Authority would be required to conduct a needs assessment and public hearings before raising tolls and fares. Enhanced annual reports, financial audits, and publication of capital plan and advance debt issuance reports would likewise be required.

These measures would take effect upon the enactment of identical legislation by the state of New Jersey.