The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering reforms in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal, which has badly damaged the reputation of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and a special oversight committee that was formed to consider changes met Monday morning and heard testimony from experts. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
FORT LEE, N.J. - Port Authority officials admit that in recent years, they should have been taking a much closer look at their own practices.
"We should be asking if the business model of the Port Authority is still viable or, to take it a step further, whether we still even need a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey," said Port Authority Commissioner Scott Rechler.
The bi-state agency has been under scrutiny lately following lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, which were ordered by the New Jersey governor's office as part of a political payback scheme. Several officials have since resigned or been fired.
Governor Chris Christie has gone so far as to call for the Authority to be broken apart.
"There may be non-core elements of the Port Authority's portfolio, if you would, that would be better managed by a particular state," said Port Authority Commissioner Richard Bagger.
Some suggestions for reform include rotating the top officers and increasing transparency by ending votes that are held in secret.
Experts say another concern is that the governors of New York and New Jersey have veto power over the monthly minutes approved by the commissioners.
"It provides an opportunity for potentially too much involvement by the governor's offices in day-to-day issues at the staff level," said Carol Kellermann of the Citizens Budget Commission.
Because of the tit-for-tat relationship between the two states, the Port Authority sometimes allows money to be spent on projects that don't fall within its purview, like the renovation of the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey. That money was originally slated for the rail tunnel connecting the two states known as access to the region's core, or ARC.
"It's not so much the Pulaski Skyway itself. It's the way that it was done, that it came out of the money from the ARC funding," Kellermann said.
Changing the Port Authority through legislation poses challenges because any legislation would have to pass four houses of the legislature, both in New York and New Jersey, and get signed into law by two governors. That goes to the heart of how the agency was designed in the first place, to be immune from the whims of any one particular state.