New York, New Jersey governors veto proposed port agency overhaul

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 27, 2014 9:41 PM

By Karen Brooks

(Reuters) - The governors of New York and New Jersey vetoed sweeping legislation passed by lawmakers in both states intended to reform the embattled bi-state Port Authority, according to a joint statement released on Saturday.

The legislative reforms to the transportation agency were passed as federal prosecutors investigate "Bridgegate," in which traffic lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson River were shut for several days in September 2013 in what many suspect was a politically motivated move by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration.

Christie, chairman of the Republican Governor's Association and a potential presidential candidate, and Democrat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo instead threw their support behind a string of reforms to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed by a bi-state panel.

The reforms include the resignation of the agency's board of commissioners, changes in how its top executives are appointed and divestment of some of its real estate holdings, including the World Trade Center, among other changes.

"While neither governor is approving the legislation as passed, they are urging their respective legislators and the Port Authority to work with them," the statement said.

The proposed reforms would have to be approved by lawmakers in both states before they can be enacted.

The governors said in the statement that they "embrace the spirit and intent of the extensive reforms" proposed by the legislation, known as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2014, but that the omnibus bill does not go far enough.

The legislation, which was supported by all four chambers of both state legislatures and needed the backing of both governors, proposed extensive accountability and transparency reforms.

Christie has seen his political narrative muddled by a federal securities investigation into whether his administration improperly diverted Port Authority funds for use on projects outside the agency's mandate.

Supporters of the bill blasted the vetoes on Saturday, calling the move "stunning" and "disappointing."

"These are changes we advocated long before the George Washington Bridge lane closures," said New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat. "We've now seen a breakdown at the agency become a national scandal, top level staffers within state government and the Port Authority resign, and a federal investigation is under way.

She added: "These bills should have served as the foundation for our long-term reform effort."

(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Dan Grebler)