The following appears in the August 26-September 1, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:
In the dog days of August, bureaucrats at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released an edict decreeing tolls on the six Hudson River crossings must be increased for the third time in 10 years, in this case by a whopping 50 percent. If they were to get their way, to drive over the George Washington Bridge or to pass through the Lincoln Tunnel would cost $12. Fortunately, the governors of New York and New Jersey, who have veto power over agency actions, said, “No way,” and imposed a more modest increase to fund what they called “the agency’s fiscal mismanagement.”
After becoming executive director of the Port Authority in 1995, I quickly learned agency careerists believed the region’s commuters should consider it an honor to pay increased tolls to fund the authority’s fiscal and construction follies that have included the JFK “Tunnel to Nowhere,” the failed fish port, failed industrial parks and a language school. I also learned resources had been squandered to support an overpaid, bloated bureaucracy whose main concern was preserving their power, perks and pensions. During my tenure, I proved bureaucrats were not indispensible by improving services after eliminating 15 percent of Port Authority jobs and seven of the 14 layers of management between the executive director and toll collectors.
Today, P.A. elites are at it again. They claim that even though they have a zero-growth operating budget, have kept the headcount flat and total authorized positions are the lowest since the 1995 downsizing, they still need a toll increase. Their reason: an unjustifiable projected increase of 5 million autos and trucks utilizing the crossings did not materialize.
This excuse is a classic red herring that draws attention from the real issue. To expect toll collections to grow at all, particularly during a recession, is absurd. The P.A. bridges and tunnels, which have been operating for over half a century, are considered “mature businesses” that have reached maximum traffic flows. Hence vehicle usage has been relatively flat for over a decade. The real reason for the toll increase is ever-increasing cost overruns in the redevelopment of the World Trade Center facilities.
The most outrageous cost-overrun boondoggle is the lower Manhattan PATH subway terminal known as the “Transportation Hub.” The original $1 billion cost of this work of art masquerading as a subway station that caters to a few New Jersey suburban commuters during rush hours (50,000 passengers per weekday versus midtown Penn Station’s 500,000), has jumped to $3.4 billion. It will wind up costing $200 million more than the new One World Trade Center. How ridiculous is that!
Bureaucrats responsible for this mess should be fired and P.A. board members, who obviously failed in their oversight duties, should do the honorable thing and resign.
Another reason why the authority needs more money: their flagrant misuse of call-in agreements to cover temporary staffing services and professional, technical and advisory services, a.k.a. consultants. To maintain the public façade that the agency’s employee headcount is down, the P.A. has had 1,858 service contracts and call-in agreements valued at $4.38 billion in effect during the period April 1, 2006 through July 30, 2009. A scathing report released in July by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, reveals that the P.A. did not have documentation to justify the need for new or renewed contracts to the tune of $1.18 billion. This is an unacceptable misuse of toll payers’ hard-earned money.
The Port Authority is dominated by an arrogant political bureaucracy that believes it is not accountable to the people or their elected officials. To tame the authority, Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie should order their board members to clean house and hire management committed to applying the same fiscal cost-cutting methods the governors applied to their respective state budgets.