IN THE NEWS: Staten Island Advance Editorial - Keep the pressure on
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012, 7:55 AM by Staten Island Advance Editorial
"You might want to keep running," Mr. Lanza said in reference to the authority at a press conference near the Outerbridge Crossing with lawmakers from both states last Friday, "but don’t think you can hide from your responsibility to people of two states."
This legislation comes on the heels of an audit by the authority’s own consultant that ripped the P.A. as a "challenged and dysfunctional organization suffering from poorly coordinated capital planning, insufficient cost controls, and a lack of transparent and effective oversight."
We can only imagine what conclusions an independent audit might draw.
That scathing audit last month has been cited as the justification for calls for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the P.A.
The bills still have to be passed by the entire legislatures in both states and then signed into law by both governors - unquestionably a heavy lift.
But we take it as a good sign that the critical report issued last month appears to have stunned both of these usually talkative governors into silence.
It may be dawning on them by now that their burlesque about hemming-and-hawing on the toll hikes before finally approving an only slightly altered version of them has failed to placate angry toll-payers in the least.
And the audit - with the possibility of more damaging disclosures about the P.A. to come - certainly calls into question their claim to be fearless reformers.
“Their track record indicates they would embrace this kind of reform,” Mr. Lanza wryly observed.
It does, but perhaps their failure to comment on all this suggests that they may still be trying to ride out the storm without doing anything about the P.A. If the joint bills fail to pass, it would mean a new round of ratcheted-up tolls would take effect later this year.
That, too, should be something that comes back to bite the governors who let this happen.
And as long as we have legislators of both parties and both states hammering away at this and keeping the issue at the forefront, it could very well come to that.
The P.A. proposed these monstrous toll increases in the first place but the authority is answerable only to the two governors. It was designed to be insulated from public pressure. But the governors are answerable to the people, and the governors rationalized and approved these hikes.
Keeping the pressure on these putative reformers might help them realize they made a big mistake.
The muckety-mucks at the Port Authority are probably scratching their heads in bewilderment - and we hope alarm - at the ongoing backlash to the agency’s obscene toll hikes last September.
Things are not going according to their familiar script at all. They figured they could ask for the moon in terms of toll increases and then agree to settle for slightly less in order to look reasonable. That, along with the disingenuous claim that the additional toll revenue was needed to pay for the redevelopment of hallowed ground at the World Trade Center would help silence the outcry . . . or so they thought.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey played along, expressing their deep “concern” about the P.A.’s proposal for steep increases, then making a show of forcing the authority to modify its plan and finally approving a somewhat modified schedule of increases as if having achieved a great victory for the people.
That bit of political Kabuki theater has always worked in the past to quell the mob, even if there were lingering rumblings of resentment. People were supposed to have forgotten about it by now.
Except they haven’t. The outrage burns as fiercely as it did last August, when the P.A. first pitched the idea of sharp toll increases to pay for all its excellent work.
More important, elected officials on both sides of the river and kills haven’t let it go either.
Lawmakers in both the New York and New Jersey state Senate have passed measures that would finally put a white-hot spotlight on the Port Authority, which has long been able to get away with doing whatever it wants in the name of promoting regional economic growth, its sacred mandate.
The New York Senate’s bill, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lanza, would require the P.A. to submit to independent audits on a regular basis, force voting members of the authority board to attend public hearings on issues such as toll hikes and impose a greatly increased threshold for financial disclosure on the secretive agency.
It would also bar the next phase of the P.A.’s stepped-up toll increase over four years from happening.