New Jersey legislators want a bigger cut of Chris Christie’s Port Authority racket

Chris Christie. (Photo via the governor's office.)
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Politicians do not often have nice things to say about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bistate agency that runs some of the metropolitan region’s most vital infrastructure. 

The governors of New York and New Jersey, who appoint the authority's leaders, have historically used it as a patronage mill when they weren't using it as a diversionary punching bag.

Governor Chris Christie has managed to do both at the same time.

Now, some Democratic New Jersey state legislators, upset in seemingly equal parts with the agency's unpopular toll hikes and the way it has been used as a political tool by Christie, want in.

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As Larry Riggs at the Asbury Park Press reported, the New Jersey State Assembly transportation committee has voted to create a special panel to investigate the Port Authority, and to equip that panel with subpoena power. The full Assembly must approve the measure, which transportation committee chair John Wisniewski, a frequent Christie critic, thinks is likely.

Certainly, the legislators have their reasons, some better than others.

“The Port Authority is beginning to look more and more like an out-of-control agency that has forgotten it exists to serve the public,” said Wisniewski, back when he introduced the legislation in February. “They hid information about the toll increase, continue to waste money on overtime, stack their payroll with political cronies, failed to respond to public records requests, and now they’re attempting to obfuscate it all by declining our hearing invitation. It’s time to get straight answers once and for all.”

In his expression of anger toward an authority that holds board meetings on Park Avenue and yet exerts so much control over New Jersey wallets and commutes, Wisniewski is in many ways playing to the same native emotions in his state as the governor.

Christie grasped the political resonance of beating up on the Port Authority early in his term. He called the outgoing and generally well-regarded executive director Chris Ward "a disaster," and said last summer's toll hikes, of which he and Governor Cuomo unconvincingly claimed to have had no foreknowledge, were the result of "secret deals [Ward] was making to reward his cronies."

Catering to voter anger about the fare hikes, which the agency said was necessary to keep it afloat, the governors then dropped $2 million on a political-looking audit of the agency. The results of the audit's first phase were less dramatic than had been promised.