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Christie, Cuomo ‘compromise’ on Port Authority toll hikes isn’t good enough

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EDITORIAL: Gov. Christie is a hypocrite if he doesn’t do something about greed, waste and mismanagement at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) at the same time the agency prepares to vote on major bridge-and-tunnel toll hikes.

You are no doubt familiar with all three here (Top: CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM photo)

Among those who agree is Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).

In what amounts to a put-up-or-shut-up letter, Vainieri Huttle told the governor Thursday that he’d be sentencing New Jersey commuters to an unfairly “monumental” toll hike and proving himself a paper tiger if he doesn’t step in now.

Can’t argue with her there.

The audit released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller showed that the Port Authority paid $85.7 million in overtime last year alone. The overall amount the past five years comes to nearly half a billion dollars.

Yet the Port Authority is set to hike tolls at the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland Tunnels by $4 per trip for E-Z Pass commuters and by $7 per trip for cash payers with yet another bump in three years that would boost it to a staggering (get this) $17 per round trip.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor

As our local assemblywoman noted, the toll hikes “would be devastating for countless New Jersey commuters.”

And y’know what? Isn’t a damned thing you or I can do about it.

Christie, on the other hand, can stop the insanity.

Reacting to the public outcry, Christie told reporters today that he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are discussing what to do but that their conclusions won’t be revealed until tomorrow.

However, Eyewitness News is reporting that both will back a $1.50 increase beginning next month, hiking the peak-time toll for cars to $9.50 from the current $8.00at both tunnels and the GWB. Off-peak tolls would be $7.50 for E-ZPass riders and $8 for cash payers. The PATH would go from $1.75 to $2.

I’m sorry, but that’s still WAY out of line, given the state of the economy — not to mention how much the agency wastes.

Obviously, this deal was struck some time ago and the Port Authority will, in turn, begin offering buyouts or perhaps even layoffs — but, of course, from the bottom up instead of the other way around, which would save LOTS more money.

Here’s the dilemma in the proverbial nutshell: The Port Authority is NOT a public agency with the power to tax. It doesn’t receive funding from local or state governments. Its revenue comes from everyday people – through tolls, fees, rents and the operation of various facilities.

In what might seem an impossible setup to some, it essentially is run like a private business, but with tax-exempt debt capacity associated with government agencies. It can allocate money however and wherever it wants, free from the kind of public scrutiny that would cut some of those appropriations off at the knees.

The only two people on the planet who hold any power over the authority are the governors of New York and New Jersey. Each one, with the approval of his or her state Senate, appoints six members to the Board of Commissioners, who serve voluntary, overlapping six-year terms “at the pleasure” of their benefactor.

Christie has the ability to veto any action taken by the New Jersey commissioners, nullifying their votes, but not by Cuomo’s appointees, and vice versa.

Making the situation dicier for commuters, the commissioners tend to be power brokers with close ties to their governors.

On top of that: Labor unions have been campaigning IN FAVOR of the toll increases, buying the Port Authority argument that the money will be plowed into construction projects and not inflated salaries, ridiculous overtime or expensive helicopters to shuttle the brass and their friends through the air rather than deal with traffic the way the rest of us do.

Some racket, huh?

Quasi-public bodies were first created nearly a century ago, with the authority to dictate their own terms – no matter the public sentiment or price and answerable only to their respective governors.

The PANYNJ, which actually turns 100 next year, operates not only bridges and tunnels (except for those run by similar agencies) but the PATH, the big bus terminal in midtown Manhattan, and airports and seaports in both states. That includes the massive Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, one of the country’s – if not the world’s largest and busiest.

Yet only two people carry any weight with them – Cuomo and Christie.

“This Governor has repeatedly tried to stake his reputation on being a no-nonsense type of guy [who is] not afraid to tackle the problems at our independent authorities and agencies,” Vainieri Huttle said, noting that Christie already has put the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and Delaware River Port Authority in their respective places by vetoing minutes and other measures.

“In such a difficult economy, Governor Christie should step in immediately to stop this abuse.  If he is not willing to ask the wealthiest taxpayers in New Jersey to pay a little more, then there is no way he should consider asking hard-working commuters of all different socio-economic backgrounds to do so,” Vainieri Huttle said.

“There is no way the Port Authority should be allowed to consider charging commuters up to $17 a day to cross the Hudson while showing such little regard for protecting the hard-earned taxpayer dollars they are already collecting.”

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