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NJ, NY lawmakers want Hudson tolls rolled back to prior levels

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

SPECIAL REPORT: An audit that called the Port Authority “dysfunctional” has lawmakers on both sides of the Hudson – and both sides of the political aisle – calling for a rollback of the most recent round of toll hikes.

NJ Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, NY State Sen. Andrew Lanza

They include New Jersey state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat from Bergen County, and New York State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, who have been pushing for an overhaul of how the agency does business.

“Given the deficiencies detailed in the audit, it calls into question the need for the exorbitant toll hikes heaped on commuters last fall,” Vainieri Huttle said. “Toll payers shouldn’t be forced to suffer for the Port Authority’s lack of oversight, insufficient cost controls and poor capital planning.

“Our governors and the Port Authority leadership should revisit this issue at once to determine if these hikes are in fact necessary.”

Lanza called the report on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “nothing short of an indictment” of how the agency operates. He compared the fiscally irresponsible portrait of the Port Authority painted by the auditors to the collapse of Enron a decade ago.

“It sounds like the Port Authority Board and Governors Cuomo and Christie were sold a bill of goods…,” Lanza said. “The decision to raise tolls based upon the information provided by the Port Authority cannot be trusted and must not stand.”

The auditors called the agency “a challenged and dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership, a siloed underlying bureaucracy, poorly coordinated capital planning processes, insufficient cost controls, and a lack of transparent and effective oversight of the World Trade Centre program that has obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure to the Port Authority.”

Among other missteps, the authority let costs on the new World Trade Center balloon to $14.8 billion dollars from the $11 billion estimated in 2008, according to Navigant Consulting, Inc.

Although it can expect reimbursements from private vendors, the Port Authority’s tab is up 28 percent over that same period – to $7.7 billion from the original $6 billion estimate, the Navigant reported.

Meanwhile, the authority’s debt has more than doubled the past decade to $19.5 billion from $9.1 billion.

All of it is covered by bridge and tunnel tolls, airport surcharges and other fees.

Cuomo and Christie issued a joint statement, calling the WTC cost hike “staggering.”

“This record of historic failure must be reversed,” the governors said.

Both ordered the audit of the quasi-public agency — which also runs New York area airports, seaports and Hudson River crossings – following the September toll hikes.

They also insisted management must be overhauled – something the authority’s new director, Patrick Foye, said has already begun.

But lawmakers want to make absolutely sure such irresponsibility never happens again.

What’s more, a growing number of lawmakers in both states over the past day have said they want to see tolls rolled back to what they were before the hike — at least until there’s a clearer accounting of the agency’s financial situation.

“This audit is clear evidence of financial abuse and mismanagement at the agency, which makes the toll increases unjust and unreasonable,” said Brooklyn Republican  Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

Huttle and Lanza are helming legislation in both states that would revamp the way the Port Authority does business. A New Jersey bill was released by an Assembly committee last week. Lanza said he is hoping for similar results in Albany.

SEE: Port Authority oversight bills begin moving

The audit “calls for the exact type of overhaul laid out in our bipartisan legislation – more public transparency, regular audits, and greater financial accountability,” Vainieri Huttle said.

The proposed laws aim to “rein in the waste and abuse that have gone unchecked for far too long,” she said.






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