NEW YORK — Legislation to overhaul the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey remains unsigned by both states’ Governors even after a second report was released on the politically connected lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and despite renewed calls from legislators.
Lawmakers from the two states on Dec. 9 held a news conference aimed at pressuring Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the measures, which both states’ legislatures have passed.
Republican New York state Sen. Marty Golden said for too long the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, has operated in the dark and the best disinfectant in government is sunlight. Democratic New Jersey state Sen. Bob Gordon said the overwhelming support in both states was astounding.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that it’s historic,” Gordon said.
The bills are aimed at increasing transparency at the Port Authority, which has responsibility over the region’s airports, tunnels, ports and bridges. At the George Washington Bridge, workers closed access lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, last September as part of a scheme led by a former Christie aide and a Port Authority official with longtime ties to Christie.
Democratic New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who co-chairs the panel investigating the lane closures, said she’d assume the Governors don’t need any pressure to get the bills signed. “They know about the excesses. They know about the toll increases,” she said. “If they need any more pressure — well, I won’t complete that sentence.”
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the legislation hadn’t been delivered to the Governor’s office and was still under review. Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts also said the bills remain under review. Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman declined to comment.
New Jersey’s legislative investigation has generated fierce political sniping, with Republicans saying Democrats are leading an overtly political inquiry while Democrats say the GOP doesn’t want to follow the facts where they lead.
The Democrat-controlled investigative panel publicized an interim report on its inquiry on Dec. 8. The report failed to find proof of a direct connection between Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and the lane closures. It comes after a report commissioned by Christie drew similar conclusions earlier this year.
The new report turned up deleted text messages between the governor and one of his aides, but the content of the messages is unknown.
The Governor’s supporters say the document clears his name. Critics say he showed a lack of curiosity about dealings within his administration. The U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey is conducting its own investigation.
The issues at the Port Authority reach further back than the 2013 lane closures. In 2012, an audit report called the agency “challenged and dysfunctional.” A 2013 General Accountability Office report concluded the agency didn’t adequately explain its justification for five-year toll increases begun in 2011 and pushed through the hikes without sufficient public comment.
New York’s legislation would clarify the fiduciary duty of the Port Authority’s commissioners, requiring they exercise independent judgment in the best interest of the authority and the public. It also would require detailed annual reports, a whistleblower program, meetings compliant with open-meetings laws and financial disclosures from commissioners.
The New Jersey legislation is similar and includes provisions for the establishment of an inspector general’s office, the requirement of a study before toll or fee increases and the opening of hearings to the public.
By Karen Matthews and Michael Catalini. AP writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany