In Major Address, Schumer Proposes Wide-ranging Reform Plan to Return Port Authority to Its Core Mission

Press Releases

Schumer: Seven Essential Reforms Needed to Address Dysfunction and Small Bore Thinking at the Port Authority.

New York, NY - April 28, 2014 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today made a major address and proposed a plan to reform the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, return it to its core mission and reenergize the agency.
 
Speaking to past and present members of the Port Authority board, local business leaders in transportation, economic development and real estate, and other key stakeholders, Schumer outlined his seven point plan to use Congressional power to amend the Port Authority’s 1921 Compact and restore its focus to improving and maintaining critical transportation infrastructure in the Port District. Schumer said that these seven essential reforms are needed to end the dysfunction of the Port Authority, caused in great part by the dilution of the agency's core mission, poor management structure and lack of transparency. Schumer pledged to work with present reform-minded members of the Board and the States of New York and New Jersey to develop a reform plan and make the changes permanent by passing them into law.
 
“The Port Authority, in [its] era of growth and imagination, was hewed, indivisibly, to its core mission: improving the Port District and thinking deeply about its long-term infrastructure needs… Over the past several decades, the fabric binding the Port Authority to that core mission has frayed, slowly unwinding as states saw an opportunity to use authority funds to cover budget shortfalls and finance pet projects,” Schumer said in the speech. “More frequently now than ever, the Port Authority has come to be seen as the proverbial honey pot, a cookie jar, a rainy day fund – whatever metaphor you prefer – for state projects outside the Port’s core mission."
“We need substantial, permanent and lasting reform, and I believe that with a largely forgotten Act of Congress in 1921, we have a way to achieve just that…  You see, most people don’t know it, but the Port Authority itself is an animal of Congress – it came into being by an Act of Congress – and it is still governed by it.… For nearly 93 years, [the Port of New York] Compact has not been comprehensively reevaluated.  Now, for the better conduct of commerce, we should look to reform the Port Compact."
“Therefore, I’m proposing a package of reforms that the Port Authority should consider – as is their explicit right – and I ask that they propose them and send them to Congress. If the Port Authority takes up the mantle of reform and it sends me a package of reforms … I will take up the torch and do everything in my power to carry the legislation through Congress to amend the Compact. Ninety-three years ago, Senator Edge of New Jersey carried this mantle to establish the Port in the 20th Century.  I pledge to you that this time, the Senator from New York will carry a new mantle to better the Port for the 21st Century... We can build a New Empire on the Hudson, as effective in the Port Authority’s second century as it was in its first. ”
 
Below is an outline of Schumer’s seven point plan:
  • First, the Port Authority should come back with a process for the nomination and confirmation of an Executive Director by the Board of Commissioners, not by the Governor of one state or the other.
  • Second, the Port Authority should propose administrative changes vesting full managerial authority and responsibility of the entire Port Authority organization with the Executive Director.
  • Third, the Port Authority should establish a permanent process to nominate individuals as Commissioners to the Port Authority who possess a comprehensive financial, engineering and planning background, and no conflicts of interest related to the Port Authority’s core mission. It should be clear that these commissioners have a fiduciary duty to the Port Authority
  • Fourth, the Port Authority should submit procedures that will allow the Port Authority to have a detailed annual operating budget and a multi-year financial plan that can be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment.
  • Fifth, they should establish procedures that will allow the Port Authority’s capital budgeting to be guided by a long-term capital strategy that is regularly revised – I suggest at least annually.  This plan should show how the Port is prioritizing and financing projects, and only then should it be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment.
  • Sixth, the members of the board should submit a plan to end spending on non-revenue generating state projects that are outside the core mission.
  • Seventh, the Port Authority should end the acquisition of new non-revenue generating facilities and projects outside the boundaries of the Port District that are not core to the Port Authority’s central mission.
 
A copy of Senator Schumer’s remarks as prepared for delivery appear below:
 
A New Empire on the Hudson: Returning the Port Authority to its Core Mission by Amending the Federal Compact of 1921
 
Thank you. Thank you Phillipe Dauman for that kind introduction and for all of the work you do; and thank you to the Partnership for New York City for helping organize this event. On Wednesday, the Port Authority of New York will be 93 years old. Birthdays, for me, are a time of reflection. A time to remark on a year’s progress. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the history of the Port. It’s also a time to think about the years to come.
 
The Port Authority, after nearly a century of success in transforming and maintaining the Port District and the transportation infrastructure of New York and New Jersey, is in need of serious and lasting reform. It has strayed from its core mission in several ways. In this speech, I will propose seven specific reforms that I believe will set the Port Authority on the right course for future generations; set it on a path that will bring the Port Authority to renewed stature and our two states to a shared prosperity.
 
First, I will outline these reforms to the Port Authority, its board and its leadership, to consider. Second, I ask the Board to debate, modify, change, endorse or add to this list of reforms. And third, I ask that they send those reforms back up to Congress, so we can enshrine those recommendations in the Port Compact, making the changes permanent, and their effect long-lasting.
 
You see, most people don’t know it, but the Port Authority itself is an animal of Congress – it came into being by an Act of Congress – and it is still governed by it. On April 30, 1921, the Port of New York Compact was signed by the states of New York and New Jersey, and sent to Congress by Senator Walter Edge of New Jersey where it received Congressional approval and the signature of President Harding.
 
This is how the Port Authority was created, it’s structure was needed cause some agency had to solve the problems that arise from what is essentially a single metro area divided between two states – because you can’t plan large-scale transportation projects over and under something like the Hudson River without cooperation between the two states. The Port Authority was, in many ways, the brainchild of Julius Henry Cohen, who dreamed of a cooperative venture that wielded the power to do what one state or one city alone could not. 
 
At a time when Tammany Hall still wielded enormous power, Cohen, and his partners in the good-government progressive movement, believed that the future of New York harbor depended on a vision unshackled from the brazen political agents on both sides of the Hudson. It was an era in which big dreams demanded even bigger solutions. In 1921, the most popular way to get across the Hudson River was by ferry.
 
Now, we still have ferries out to Staten Island, but it’s fair to say that times have changed. And it was the Port Authority that helped change them. It was the Port Authority that financed and built the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge, brought all 3 airports in the New York City area, JFK, LaGuardia Airport and Newark, into the 20th century, and established the East Coast’s premier marine terminal in Elizabeth.
 
The Authority has absolutely transformed our region, our economy, the very way our commerce and our city operate.
 
CORE MISSION
This was the vision of Cohen and the other early pioneers: a true bi-state authority that was committed to maintaining and improving the Port District and its transportation infrastructure, contributing to our shared prosperity. That is the Port Authority’s core mission. The Authority, as conceived in that 1921 Compact, was to be insulated from political pressures and corruption. It was intended to transcend those short-term priorities of individual administrations. Instead, it was to focus on long-term infrastructure needs.
 
As Jameson Doig explained in his famous history of the Port Authority, Empire on the Hudson, the Port Authority was intended to have “some ability to see further than the next election, some capacity to consider policies which might serve a wider interest than that of Jersey City alone, or Brooklyn alone, or New York City…viewed in isolation”
 
HISTORY
In the early years of the Port Authority, and indeed in its middle ages, it fulfilled this mission. Like any agency at any time in history, it was not perfect, but it was focused on the right things. As the world moved from steamers and freight to cars, planes, and commuter rail, the Port Authority rebuilt the infrastructure of New York and New Jersey to move along with it.
 
Innovative leaders like Austin Tobin led the authority through the forties and fifties and sixties when the Port Authority was seen as the engine of prosperity. It was an age of optimism and constructive cooperation between the states. Its hallmarks were: vision, but a vision without folly; efficiency, but efficiency without parsimony; growth, but growth without overreach. The Port Authority built big things and took on the problems no one thought could be solved and in so doing built the foundation of the greatest economic center in the modern world.
 
In the 1920’s, as the rise in automobile traffic required more Hudson River crossings, the width of the Hudson River near lower Manhattan presented an engineering challenge on an epic scale, one that had challenged planners and engineers for nearly a century. But in 1923, the Port Authority, with the Swiss-born engineer Othmar Ammann as its chief designer, developed the plans for what would be a suspension bridge twice as long as any that had been seen before. In 1927, construction began on the George Washington Bridge, which was completed in 1931, ahead of schedule, and under the estimated costs.
 
This was the Port Authority at its best, when it operated like a guiding hand with the talent and the means to effect change on a massive scale. This was the Port Authority that built the Lincoln Tunnel and turned a small airport into a global hub of travel virtually synonymous with the President for whom it is named. This was the Port Authority that so impressed FDR by its structure and early achievements – founded on Cohen's ideas – that he used the model to create the Tennessee Valley Authority and other New Deal programs which brought a country out of depression.
 
Now, let me be clear, I don’t look at it entirely with rose-tinted glasses. There was no doubt political pressure exerted from both sides of the River...the issues had to be negotiated in a New York political system still run by Tammany Hall after all. Not every board member and engineer or planner was chosen on merit alone, there were, of course, politically motivated appointees. There were no doubt conflicts of interest; certain projects were undoubtedly boondoggles. Not every effort was a home run or inspired by the noblest of intentions.
 
But the Port Authority, in that era of growth and imagination, was hewed, indivisibly, to its core mission: improving the Port District and thinking deeply about its long-term infrastructure needs.
 
 
NEED FOR REFORM
It has become abundantly clear over the past few decades that there is both a need and a desire to reform the Port Authority. No longer is the Port Authority focused solely on the long-term infrastructure needs of New York and New Jersey
 
Over the past several decades, the fabric binding the Port Authority to that core mission has frayed, slowly unwinding as states saw an opportunity to use Authority funds to cover budget shortfalls and finance pet projects.Increasingly, the Port Authority has been resorting to the Tammany Hall-style behavior it was created to rise above – patronage, opacity, and political expediency. More frequently now than ever, the Port Authority has come to be seen as the proverbial honey pot, a cookie jar, a rainy-day fund – whatever metaphor you prefer – for state projects outside the Port’s core mission.
 
Over the years, the “honey pot” mentality has turned the Port Authority into a 50-50 operation between the two states. “I get mine, you get yours.” This has killed the ability for the Port Authority to think big and act big. It has led to relatively small thinking, an endless War of the Roses over state initiatives and micro-projects.
 
To fix it requires a leap of faith, and real leadership from our two governors, Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo. It’s to their great credit that they both have recognized the need for reforms and have helped start the conversation, because it means the possibility of ceding some level of control in sacrifice to something greater for the region. And it should be applauded. And that gives those of us who seek reform an opening.
 
But as it stands, the diffusion of objectives has blurred the Port Authority’s focus, and led it in a troubling direction. To sum it up, there are three major factors that have caused the Port Authority to veer from its intended – and optimal – path.
 
First, its management structure has resulted in a decision-making apparatus far flung from what Julius Henry Cohen intended when he suggested that the Port Authority be shielded from ‘the hurry and strife of politics.’The “tradition” of an Executive Director appointed by New York and a Deputy Executive Director appointed by New Jersey creates two lines of parallel authority, like political fiefdoms within the Port Authority.
 
And when you throw in the Chair of the Board, appointed by New Jersey, you get an incoherent, tripartite management structure: one that stifles vision and long term thinking, and defies leadership. It fosters poor management at best; at worst, outright tribalism.
 
Furthermore, the quality of the commissioners has recently – and rightly – come under more intense scrutiny.  While there are many truly excellent commissioners on the board today, over the years there have been those who lacked the experience and qualifications that should be expected of someone in such a position of influence and power. Too often a post on the Port Authority is treated as a goodie to curry political favor or a reward for close political associates of the Governors.
 
The second factor I’d like to discuss is transparency. Unlike other agencies that are stewards of public money, the Port Authority submits itself to very few practices that encourage public examination and discourse about its mission and about its future.
 
The Port Authority submits an annual budget and a broad ten-year capital plan, but the capital plan does not give any rationale for why certain projects were prioritized, or how they are to be funded.  While some recent changes are steps in the right direction, they do not go far enough. Whether it’s the MTA or the New Jersey or New York Department of Transportation, we know that there is a higher bar when it comes to transparency and regularity of budgets.  And we know that these agencies need to show how they pay for projects and update their plans every year.
 
But the Port Authority’s annual budget is not updated to reflect changes in financing or show if there are any cost overruns. There is no requirement to show how the particularly ambitious projects are to be funded. Often, the only time you hear from the Port Authority is when they are announcing that they have already decided on this or that project, and that’s that!
 
Subjecting the Port Authority to more rigorous public reporting practices and increasing public oversight over the decision-making process of the board is a worthy goal and should be at the top of the list for would-be reformists.
 
The final, and perhaps most important factor, is the diversion of Port Authority funds for projects that are not tied to its core mission. These have been innocuously dubbed “regional economic development projects.” In fact, many of these types of projects used to be and ought to be funded by the states themselves. They are typically non-revenue generating, so states would prefer to keep them off their balance sheets.
 
Let me be clear: most of these projects are good projects! Most I would support. As you know, I’ve always been a pro-growth Democrat. It’s not the merits of the projects that I draw issue with, but the source of the funding.
 
Given the overwhelming transportation needs of the bi-state area, they should not be funded by the Port Authority…and because in the next 50 years, these long-term transportation needs are only going to increase, and they will require grand thinking on the part of the Port Authority. Piling up these non-revenue generating “regional development” projects, one after another, on the Port Authority’s balance sheet has squeezed their budget and diluted the Authority’s ability to function as it was intended.
 
And no doubt, it is a pox on both our states’ houses:
 
New Jersey and Governor Christie, after killing the project to build a new commuter train tunnel under the Hudson, directed the Port Authority to finance the renovation of the Pulaski Skyway to the tune of nearly one billion dollars. The Pulaski Skyway is neither owned nor in any way operated by the Port Authority. It is a state road system and its maintenance and redevelopment should be funded as such.
 
Diverting funds from the ARC tunnel for the Pulaski Skyway was the wrong move. The ARC tunnel was a high-priority and already fully funded. It was a bad idea to stop it and a worse idea to cannibalize it for projects that ought to have been funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, perhaps even with some help from federal highway dollars. The Port Authority should have pressed forward on ARC. As I said then, “it was like eating our seed corn.”
 
I made it very clear at the time that I disagreed with Governor Christie on this, and we had some harsh words. But afterwards, we worked extremely well together in the wake of Sandy, and we enjoy a good working relationship to this day. We worked constructively together to pass Sandy relief and immigration reform. His work was absolutely invaluable and I salute him for it. But on the ARC issue, we disagreed then and we disagree today.
 
Over the years, New York has been guilty of the same intrusions into Port Authority funds for state development projects that do not meet the definition of being a core need of the Port District. These intrusions have not just been the product of the last few years. They have happened on both sides of the River, under governors both Democrat and Republican.
 
For example, Governor Mario Cuomo in 1984 influenced the Port Authority to expand its economic development ventures into Westchester County for the first time – purchasing an industrial park in Yonkers for $24 million. This was in addition to the development of industrial parks in the South Bronx and Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey. And Governor Pataki dipped into Port Authority funds to subsidize commercial and residential development projects. The Queens West waterfront development project, for example, was aided by $65 million from the Port Authority.
 
Did these projects create jobs and spur economic development? Yes. But we have to ask ourselves: is this what Port Authority resources should be expended on? Do such projects advance the region’s overall transportation infrastructure needs? Is the Port Authority the place that should fund these? I think you all know the answer to that question.
 
$25 million here, $50 million there. These decisions add up quickly. Some of these projects generate revenue, but many do not. According to reports, the Port Authority has spent $800 million in the past decade on zero-return “regional” projects. $800 million. Even more troubling, the Port Authority seems to be barreling down this road even faster than before. In its ten-year capital plan, they propose spending another Billion dollars on such projects. Let me repeat, another billion dollars in financing projects that won’t net the Port Authority a penny.
 
For too long, such projects have been subsidized by tolls and airport fees. The growth of Kennedy Airport and increase in traffic over the bridges and in the tunnels has indeed fueled the ability of the Authority to expand its reach. But this expansion has stretched it too thin, pushing towards overreach. Yes, these projects are often worthwhile in their own right, but not at the expense of turning a blind eye to much higher priority, larger and longer-term infrastructure needs. And as I said, our needs are getting greater and greater. As we move further into the 21st century, there are so many long-term needs that the Port Authority will have to grapple with in the next several decades.
 
Think about what we could use a billion dollars for over the next ten years!  A billion dollars could renovate and rehabilitate the Port Authority Bus Terminals. It could finance the entirety of Phase 2 of Moynihan Station. It could help renovate LaGuardia Airport. Now I must say, the Vice President is a good friend of mine and former colleague, but I took it personally when he said that LaGuardia looks like an airport that might be found “in a third world country.” The New Yorker in me took offense to that, but…he has a point. LaGuardia needs serious rehabilitation, and the Port Authority can do that. We all know that our 3 major airports – JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark – are some of the most congested in the world. The congestion will only increase if we do nothing to alleviate it. And that will hurt our economy.
 
A direct rail link to, and the modernization of, Stewart Airport could open up a fourth airport for the metropolitan area that could serve not only New York City, but also the fast-growing suburbs of northern New Jersey, New York, and eastern Pennsylvania. A ‘one seat ride’ to Stewart is just the kind of project that the early Port Authority leaders would embark upon. Rail, both passenger and freight, are becoming more important. For example, the Cross-Harbor tunnel proposed by Congressman Nadler is a big future project that could pay huge dividends for Long Island by finally establishing a quicker freight rail link from Long Island to the other side of the Hudson. And, such a link would alleviate truck traffic in downtown Manhattan. My friend Congressman Nadler was right to revive interest in the project.
 
With the advent of bigger ships, sea commerce is flowing more frequently to deep-water ports. The Panama Canal is currently being deepened and widened to accommodate larger tankers, and the Port of New York should be ready to receive them. The Port of New York, particularly on the New Jersey side, needs to be modernized to get ahead of this trend. And there are likely large-scale transportation needs that we don’t today anticipate. In 25 years, in 50 years, we’ll need the Port Authority to be ready to take on these challenges.
 
So we need a drastic reassessment of priorities, and a Sword of Damocles that keeps the Port Authority from deviating from its core mission. It’s clear that we’ve lost our way. And unfortunately the Port Authority has been insulated from reform by interests on both sides of the river, political and otherwise.
 
But I can feel a momentum building for reform, in editorial pages and in conversation I have with average New Yorkers. Bridgegate turned a watchful eye to the Port Authority and made bright and clear what before was opaque, but bubbling under the surface: the Port Authority is on the wrong track. We need to have a serious discussion – of which this address is only a part – about reining it in, reforming the Port Authority to ensure it once again fulfills its core mission.
 
RETURN TO CORE MISSION
Some reform efforts are already underway.  Many of the people in this room are pushing a “reform agenda” to help drive this conversation.  That’s really important.  Commissioner Rechler has identified a few of these reforms and created a panel to codify them. Executive Director Foye has signaled openness to reform. Similarly, Commissioner Bagger from New Jersey has been instrumental in the early debates about reform.
 
It is my understanding that these commissioners among others will report recommendations to the board at the end of next month for the reform of the Port Authority’s by-laws. These efforts have been a breath of fresh air for the reform movement that has been growing these past few years.
 
For example, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky passed a public authorities reform bill in New York, which was signed by the Governor of New York, that would increase accountability at the Port Authority. And if both legislatures passed a bill that applied these changes to the Port Authority, we’d have some meaningful reforms. I welcome and encourage these efforts, because they show that there is a favorable climate for reform right now. I believe the Port Authority, its leadership and its board, and both Governors would be receptive to a reform package.
 
But in a political atmosphere that always favors the status quo, I want to go one step further. The Port Authority and the Governors of both states should think boldly, as they have shown they are willing to do, and take a leap of faith. I want…we all should want…to create a new structure for the Authority that will address the current deficiencies, and put in place the guidelines for a successful Port Authority beyond the tenure of the current Board of Commissioners and the current state Administrations.
 
We need reform that will last, not just a quick and evanescent response to Bridgegate, which after all, was a symptom, not a cause of the Port Authority’s dysfunction.We need substantial, permanent, and lasting reform, and I believe that with a largely forgotten Act of Congress in 1921, we have a way to achieve just that.
 
As I described at the outset of this speech, it’s little known that Congress, as the primary arbiter of interstate commerce, has the power to reform the Port Authority. The states of New York and New Jersey, in good faith, entered into the Port Compact of 1921, the agreement that created the Port Authority and bestowed it the power to bond and toll. For nearly 93 years, this Compact has not been comprehensively reevaluated. Of course, for many of those years there was no motivation or need to do so. But the impetus for reform that we know now exists has made parts of the Port Compact especially relevant.
 
According to the Compact, Congress has “expressly reserved” the “right to alter, amend, or repeal” the resolution that created the Port Authority. Furthermore, the Compact states that the Port Authority “may from time to time make recommendations to the legislatures of the two States or to the Congress of the United States, based upon study and analysis, for the better conduct of commerce passing through the port of New York.” Now, “for the better conduct of commerce,” we should look to reform the Port Compact.
 
Therefore, I’m proposing a package of reforms that the Port Authority should consider – as is their explicit right – and I ask that they propose them and send them to Congress. I ask them to study these reforms carefully. Have hearings on their merit. Their recent hearing was an excellent start and I commend them for starting to debate these ideas openly.
 
So I ask them to study a package of seven reforms that I am proposing today. I say to the Board of the Port Authority: modify them, change them, or add to them as you see fit given your valuable and unique view as board members. Then, send them to Congress so they can be made permanent. The board may have new ideas that we haven’t thought of, or different approaches, but I hope they stay true to our intent – to achieve a return of the Port Authority to its core mission. My guess, and my hope, is that they will stay true.
 
If the Port Authority takes up the mantle of reform, and it sends me a package of reforms, hopefully similar to the ones we propose, with their blessings in hand, I will take up the torch and do everything in my power to carry the legislation through Congress to amend the Compact. 93 years ago, Senator Edge of New Jersey carried this mantle to establish the Port in the 20th Century.  I pledge to you that this time, the Senator from New York will carry a new mantle to better the Port for the 21st Century.
 
 
REFORMS
I am proposing seven reforms that, if enacted, would strike right at the heart of the problems I earlier described: managerial structure, transparency, and the diversion of funds towards nonessential projects that are unrelated to infrastructure needs. The intent of each of these reforms is to bind more tightly the Port Authority to its core mission: the long-term maintenance and expansion of essential transportation infrastructure in the Port District.
 
Managerial structure
To reform the management problems at the Port Authority, we should begin at the top. First, I’m asking the Port Authority to come back with a process for the nomination and confirmation of an Executive Director by the Board of Commissioners, not by the Governor of one state or the other. Importantly, this reform would force commissioners from both New York and New Jersey to come together on a crucial decision at the beginning of each Port Authority administration. The process of commissioners from both sides coming together to choose the Executive Director could do wonders to unite the Port Authority under one banner.
 
Second, I’d like them to propose administrative changes vesting full managerial authority and responsibility of the entire Port Authority organization with the Executive Director. Such a change would not only end the bifurcated nature of the current Executive Director, Deputy Executive Director relationship, it would begin to wind down and end the practice of having “two lines of authority” in an agency that only needs one.
 
Third, the Port Authority should establish a permanent process to nominate individuals as Commissioners to the Port Authority who possess a comprehensive financial, engineering and planning background, and no conflicts of interest related to the Port Authority’s core mission. It should be clear that these commissioners have a fiduciary duty to the Port Authority
 
For a civil engineer, or city planner, or financial whiz, working at the Port Authority should be the Promised Land of public service – imagine, having the resources at your disposal to transform and shape the economic future of this region! The Port Authority should be again become a magnet for attracting our best minds to public service.
 
Transparency
But those minds should be subject to public review. The secrecy and darkness that shrouds the budgeting process of the Port Authority is just as responsible as the management structure for leading it away from its core mission. So fourth, I’m asking the Port Authority to submit procedures that will allow the Port Authority to have a detailed annual operating budget and a multi-year financial plan that can be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment.
 
And fifth, they should establish procedures that will allow the Port Authority’s capital budgeting to be guided by a long-term capital strategy that is regularly revised – I suggest at least annually.  This plan should show how the Port is prioritizing and financing projects, and only then should it be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment. Right now, the ten-year capital plan includes nearly $1 billion in regional development projects, but does not show why certain projects were chosen, or provide a plan for how they are to be funded.
 
As Judge Louis Brandeis said, sunlight is the best of disinfectants. Opening the Port Authority’s annual budget plan and multi-year plan to public review will increase accountability, and should compel the Authority to focus on the true needs of the Port District.If they don’t, the whole world will know it, and can comment on it. Seeing how the Port Authority plans to fund projects will give us the power to analyze their long-term finances and suggest reforms that are in everyone’s best interest.
 
And in that effort, it will nudge the Port Authority in the direction of its core mission.
 
Diversion of Funds for Non-Core Projects
 
But a nudge is not enough. The temptation to finance pet projects is too great. The budget constraints on both sides of the River will invariably bring state executives to view the Port Authority as a sub-state agency, an entity that can toll and spend where the states cannot.
 
So sixth, the members of the board should submit a plan to end spending on non-revenue generating state projects, the “regional development” projects I discussed earlier, that are outside the core mission.  These regional development projects, while many beneficial in their own right, detract from the Port Authority’s ability to rehabilitate and improve core transportation facilities.
 
Again, I recognize that many of these projects are worthwhile. But I want to state clearly: the Port Authority should not be funding non-core projects that should be funded by the states’ transportation budgets. If the value of such “regional development” investments could be better used to maintain or rehabilitate existing Port Authority facilities, they should not be funded with Port Authority dollars. Period.
 
Let me rephrase a definition that I described earlier about what is a “core project.” A core project would add, in a very meaningful way, to the ability to move people and goods in and out of the Port District. We need to end the Port’s involvement in projects that don’t add in any meaningful way to the ability to move people and goods through the Port District.
 
The Authority’s lodestar should be: essential projects that improve transportation of all types in the bi-state area. Airports, seaports, bridges, and tunnels. Of course, if any new modes of transportation were to arise in response to the rapidly changing transportation demands of the next 50 to 100 years, those projects would be included as well.
 
We need lasting reform, codified in the Port Compact, that puts real restrictions on the type of projects the Port Authority can finance, real limits on the reach of an Authority that, according to the Compact, should only claim 25 miles in all directions as its purview. In the past, New York and New Jersey have mutually agreed to expand the jurisdiction of the Port Authority, to include facilities far outside the original boundaries. I think that’s fine – if and only if – those facilities are inextricably tied to the region’s long-term transportation needs.
 
So seventh, the Port Authority should articulate a commitment to end the acquisition of new non-revenue generating facilities and projects outside the boundaries of the Port District that are not core to the Port Authority’s central mission. While this is a general definition, ultimately the decisions will have to be based on more specific criteria.  I would leave those specific definitions to the Port Authority Board, but I will offer a few broad outlines.
 
Does each project have to fully pay for itself? No, but it should have some revenue stream. What about a revenue-generator that doesn’t add to the region’s transpiration network, like if the Port Authority were to expand its boundaries to finance a new casino? Even though it would generate revenue, I believe that falls outside the Port Authority’s core mission. The Authority should not be able to expand to take over facilities that do not add in any significant way to the region’s transportation network, because the capital spending on projects that don’t advance the region’s infrastructure needs deprive the ability of the Port Authority to use its resources where they matter most.
 
This, more than any single reform, gets to the heart of my address today. This reform would put the core mission in writing – like a beacon for future commissioners, governors and executive directors.The infrastructure needs of the Port are too great to allow these diversions, distractions and dalliances with state projects and unrelated facilities to continue. Tolls are too high, our bridges and tunnels and airports and bus terminals are desperately in need of modernization. So let’s set the Port Authority to that task.
 
CONCLUSION
Our two Governors, Cuomo and Christie, Commissioner Rechler and Commission Bagger, Executive Director Foye, and many of you here today recognize the need for these very reforms, and what’s more, you recognize the urgency of this mission. We cannot waste this building momentum on soft, unenforceable reforms, on half-steps or half-measures. We cannot make changes that could wash away under the next Governors or next Board, or be undone in the next decade.
 
I ask the Board of the Port Authority directly: consider this slate of reforms! Debate them, refine them, add to them as you wish – but as long as they are true to our shared goal – I will surely endorse them as well. To the whole board and the leadership of the Port Authority I say: accept these reforms, or those that carry out our basic mission in a parallel way, and propose them – as envisioned in 1921 Port Compact – to Congress. I will be your champion and carry them to law.
 
A law that will firmly cement these changes in the compact that is the heart and soul of the Port Authority. For nearly a century, the Port Authority built and invested in our regional economy in a way that built the strongest economic center in the world.
 
Today’s successes may seem smaller in comparison, but we should not shy away from high expectations.
 
We have much work ahead of us, repairing and making new what has become old, building new bridges and tunnels and railways to meet ever-growing demand.
 
And we have the means to do so if we can return the Port Authority to its core mission; fill it with dedicated and brilliant public servants; shelter it from the vice grip of political pressure; make it more transparent and open and efficient; recommit it to the projects that need the guiding hand of the Port Authority and remove or limit its involvement in those projects that don’t.
 
It will be a Port Authority that’s more focused, capable of being bolder, with more vision and imagination. If we can do this, at the twilight of the Port Authority’s first century, we can usher in a new dawn. Not just for the Port Authority, but for New York, for New Jersey, for commuters and businesses on both sides of the River. We can build a New Empire on the Hudson, as effective in the Port Authority’s second century as it was in its first.
 
Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus

Join Our Weekly Newsletter

Sign up for a free weekly newsletter covering things to do, hottest local headlines, and everything Long Island! Read more here or enter your email to signup.

   
     Newsletter Archive
Advertisement
Advertise With Us
 
Open Feedback Dialog