Christie And Cuomo Direct Port Authority To Scale Back Toll Hikes

Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York sent a joint letter to Port Authority Chairman David Samson and Vice Chairman Stanley Grayson today directing that the toll and fare increases the authority proposed two weeks ago be scaled back and that a comprehensive audit of the capital plan and operations take place.

A copy of the governors’ letter can be found here.

Christie and Cuomo said that their commissioners were able to identify $5 billion in savings within the capital plan over the last two weeks. 

Imagine what they could have found if they weren’t in a hurry.

Tolls for cars on the Hudson River crossings will increase by $1.50 in September and then $.75 in December in each year from 2012-2015.  The Port Authority’s proposal would have raised these tolls by $4.00 in September. Overall tolls on cars will increase by $4.50 over the next five years rather than the $6.00 PANYNJ proposed over four years.

Drivers paying cash rather than using EZ Pass will pay a $2.00 penalty.

Tolls on trucks using EZ Pass will increase by $2.00 per axle in September, and then an additional $2.00 per year per axle starting in December, 2012-2015.

Trucks paying cash will pay the same increases, plus $3.00 per axle.

Fares on the PATH trains will increase $.25 per year for the next four years.

The governors said that these increases would stop the fiscal crisis at Port Authority and allow for the completion of the World Trade Center and hundreds of other projects that “will ensure the safety and economic viability of a transportation system that millions of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans rely on.”

This toll deal, since the Port Authority’s initial announcement through today’s joint letter by the governors is just too cute for my liking.

Why institute five years worth of toll increases before the comprehensive audit is completed?  What happens if the audit reveals another $5 billion in savings?  Will tolls be reduced by another $2.50 like the governors were able to reduce the proposed increases with $5 billion in savings discovered in two weeks?  Who will conduct the audit?  Is prevailing wage on the table for reform? Will the audit be made public?  How long will the audit take to complete?

If there is a real fiscal crisis at PANYNJ with a possibility of defaulting on bonds, a more reasonable alternative would have been to grant temporary toll and fare increases, for six months to a year, until the audit could be completed, studied and money saving reforms implemented.

The fact that this fiasco happened during two weeks in August while so many people are vacationing before the back to school rush increases my cynicism and disappointment.  It makes me fear what might be in store for us during the last two weeks of December and during the lame duck session of the legislature.

Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Port Authority | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

Overtime pay “flows like water” at Port Authority

New York State’s top auditor said that overtime pay “flows like water” at the Port Authority of NY/NJ, according to a report this morning in The Record.

Port Authority paid $85.7 million in overtime to 5,360 of its 6,977 employees, with many doubling their base salaries and earning over $200K per year.

“Management has no clear strategy” for meeting its own cust cutting goals, The Record quotes NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as saying.

At a press conference last week Governor Christie blamed past mismanagement for Port Authority’s fiscal woes. 

Port Authority’s leadership should do Governors Christie and Cuomo, as well as all residents of the region a favor and withdraw their toll and fare increase proposal.  Rather, they should announce that they are embarking on a overhaul of the agency’s operations to eliminate waste and excessive spending before they seek any more money.

Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Port Authority | Tags: | 1 Comment »

Unions Packing Port Authority Toll Hike Hearings

I suppose it should be no surprise that unions are sending their members to the Port Authority toll hike hearings to make emotional appeals to raise the tolls on non-union commuters.

Nor is it a surprise that the few commuters who can attend the hearings are objecting to having to bear the burden of the cost of infrastructure and cost overruns at the World Trade Center.

InTheLobby reports that fear of a credit downgrade might be what is really behind the push for the toll and fare hikes.

If you’re not attending the online hearing this afternoon between 5 and 6, tune into the LaRossa and Gallagher Radio Show with special guest Bob Ingle, on WIFI 1460 AM or here.

Posted: August 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Port Authority | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Port Authority Toll Hike Hearings

The Port Authority of NY/NJ is having public hearings tomorrow on their proposed toll hikes for Hudson River crossings and PATH trains.

The proposed tolls and the hearing schedules, including an online hearing, can be found on the agency’s website here.

Posted: August 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Port Authority | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Unions To Dems: Shut Up About Port Authority Toll Hikes

By Art Gallagher

Politickernj is reporting that New Jersey’s construction unions are leaning on Democratic lawmakers not to criticise Governor Christie over the proposed 50% toll and fare hikes by the Port Authority of NY/NJ. Yet.

The labor unions want New Jersey commuters to fund the $33 billion in NY and NJ infrastructure projects, including the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, that the toll hikes will support.

Trenton Democrats and U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg had initially come out strongly against the toll hikes.   Governors Christie and Cuomo claimed they were caught off guard by the toll hike proposal and would review it.  Most observers expect Christie and Cuomo to approve lower toll increases than the Port Authority has proposed.

Trenton Democrats are now holding their powder on criticising the proposed hikes, figuring that Christie will look good politically if he responds to the criticism by scaling back the increases.  Instead they will attack Republicans after the final hikes are approved.

Christie has blamed the need for toll hikes on years of mismanagement  in the Port Authority and has claimed that the people he has appointed are improving the operations and finances of the mega agency.  Cuomo said that the proposed toll hikes don’t work for him.

Posted: August 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Port Authority | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Unions To Dems: Shut Up About Port Authority Toll Hikes

Reduce Costs Before Raising Tolls: It Is Time To Reform “Prevailing Wage”

By Art Gallagher

Perhaps lost in the news of the S & P down grade of United States Treasury debt is the local news that the Port Authority of NY/NJ is calling for a massive toll and fare increases to fund capital projects.  Tolls on Hudson River crossings would increase from $8 to $12 and fares on the PATH trains would increase from $1.75 to $2.75.

Governors Christie and Cuomo issued a joint statement that signals that toll increases are coming, but at lower rate than proposed by the Port Authority Board.  We’ve seen this dance before.  Port Authority proposes a huge increase and the politicians scale it back.

Mark Magyar has a comprehensive article at NJSpotLight highlighting the “need” for the $1 billion revenue increase that Port Authority is requesting.

Governors Christie and Cuomo have established themselves as credible reformers in reducing the size of state government.  The proposal is another opportunity for them to improve government services and implement lasting reforms in the process.

Christie should use this opportunity to reform a major cost driver on public capital projects; “prevailing wage.”

“Prevailing wage” requires wages paid to employees of contractors working on government projects in New Jersey to be paid at a “union rate” determined by the unions and the Department of Labor, even if the winning bidders of the contractors are not union shops.

Eliminating the “prevailing wage” clause in government contracts would save taxpayers billions of dollars on construction projects.  There is a huge over supply of labor available.  Wages on government contracts should be set my market forces, not by unions who are making political contributions.  

The savings associated with eliminating this practice would go well beyond the Port Authority projects.  It would extend to DOT projects and county and municipal projects.  The saving to toll payers, fare payers and property tax payers would be substantial.

Another area for savings is the largess of salaries paid to the political patrons who run the Port Authority.  Just as Christie has mandates that school superintendents shall not earn more than the Governor, employees of the Port Authority should not earn more than the governors of New York and New Jersey.

Posted: August 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Port Authority | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »