The following appears in the September 23-29, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:
Last month, the governors of New York and New Jersey relented and permitted the Port Authority to raise tolls and fares for the third time in 10 years. While the increases were half the amount the agency sought, nevertheless, it was a victory for incompetent bureaucrats who have squandered billions of toll payers’ hard-earned dollars and have run out of capital to complete Ground Zero construction.
In exchange for the OK, however, the governors must insist on genuine reforms that ensure the agency is never again rewarded for failure. To achieve this end, their respective board members must be given marching orders to overhaul the bloated capital projects budget, to scale down the $3.1 billion downtown PATH subway station, to punish those responsible for cost overruns and to hire an independent firm that reports directly to the board to root out waste and mismanagement. Both governors should also demand immediate resignations from P.A. commissioners appointed by prior governors.
One huge expense that needs to be curtailed is Port Authority employee overtime. In a blistering report released in mid-August, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli declared, “Overtime flows like water at the Port Authority and management has no clear strategy to achieve its own benchmarks and goals for curbing costs.”
Between 2006 and 2010, $459 million was paid in overtime to over 5,000 of the P.A.’s 7,000 employees. There were two dozen whose overtime earnings were greater than their base salary. The P.A.’s 2010 budget, which claimed overtime would not exceed 15 percent of base salaries and agencywide would be reduced by 20 percent, came in at $85.7 million, down only 3 percent from 2009. Overtime for P.A. police and PATH workers was twice the limit and accounted for two-thirds of the total paid by the authority.
Reacting to these findings, the comptroller concluded, “Port Authority management set cost control goals, policies and overtime limits, and then proceeded to fall asleep at the wheel. They’ve made minimal progress in containing these costs, which are too high given the current fiscal environment.”
The comptroller’s report also revealed that as a result of these appalling O.T. costs, P.A. employees account for 23 percent of the state’s top 300 pension earners with lifetime guaranteed annual incomes ranging from $125,000 to $196,000. The average P.A. retiree receives $143,000 a year. Toll payers whose 401(k)s were wiped out during the Great Recession have every right to be outraged that they and their children and grandchildren will have to pay for these exorbitant pensions.
The people of the New York-New Jersey region deserve better. Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo should make it clear that they will accept nothing less than fundamental change that results in a leaner and more responsive Port Authority.