A plan but no action for the Port Authority

Instead of signing off on the specific NY/NJ Port Authority reform laws embedded in the joint bill (S2181) of both legislatures, the governors of the two states have decided to support a plan created by a panel of six people – three close to Governor Christie and three close to Governor Cuomo. KEEPING THE REGION MOVING – a 102-page report – reads like a corporate long range business plan. There is a mission statement with lofty recommendations and action steps. Many are worthwhile, but like any business plan, they are aspirational and not law. They maintain the strong role of the two governors and they postpone meaningful change in the PA.

A good recommendation is to “Pursue the construction of a new Port Authority Bus Terminal” but “pursue” is a vague word, and will it be carried out, if so by when and with what anticipated outcomes? Other recommendations are even vaguer: “Deliver a more efficient and modern organization.” Unfortunately business plans all too frequently turn out to be more fiction than fact.  

As we have learned it is no easy feat to create PA reform laws – for each state to pass an identical bill and have both governors approve it. The bill the legislatures did approve provided specific transparency and accountability standards, while the proposed recommendations are much broader in concept, but are only suggestions. The PA could later choose to change its by-laws, plans, and operating procedures rather than having to follow and be accountable for specific laws.

There appears to be efforts to improve governance – creating a single CEO and replacing the current board chair and vice chair with two co-chairs or rotate the chairs. However, there is no recommendation to change the composition of board members, the authority of the governors to appoint them, or the governors’ ability to veto PA actions. Our governors are not giving up their reins nor suggesting that professional transportation experts be appointed.

It is not surprising that the governors would support this plan prepared by trusted colleagues. The report proposes no new laws, only offers lofty goals, and slows the progress of reform. Both governors have asked their “respective Legislatures to review the Special Panel’s report to guide the crafting of broader and more comprehensive reform legislation.” Rather than creating actual reform the governors are ignoring a good bill and passing the baton back to the legislature. Gov. Christie will claim a successful, if hollow, accomplishment, and have the breathing space to pursue his national goal. Both legislatures are left with the unenviable but necessary task of starting anew.  

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