An extensive report on radio station WNYC (January 17) by Andrea Bernstein explores a number of events involving Port Authority budgets instigated by the New Jersey appointees on the Port Authority, notably Bill Baroni and David Wildstein.
The report says that the decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to kill the ARC trans-Hudson rail tunnel several years ago was not done for the reasons Christie outlined, which involved a sudden realization that the tunnel might cost New Jersey far more than budgeted. Instead, it was done to enable critical road repairs to be done with the $2 billion Port Authority contribution to ARC, notably for repairs to the Pulaski Skyway. The connection to Port Authority facilities was justified by saying that the Skyway improvements would aid traffic flow to the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Diverting the $2 billion allowed Gov. Christie to avoid an increase in the state gasoline tax, which the report said would be political suicide for a potential Republican presidential candidate.
Other projects using Port Authority funds include
- the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which the report said was a condition by New Jersey to agree to World Trade Center reconstruction;
- purchase of a military terminal in Bayonne, which the report says allowed the city of Bayonne to avoid bankruptcy that would have been politically devastating to the state and its officials; and
- reconstruction of the Harrison PATH station. The report hinted that all of these projects were instrumental in securing endorsement of Gov. Christie’s re-election bid by the mayors involved.
The report also asserted that toll increases approved by the Port Authority were said to be needed for World Trade Center reconstruction, but that the real reason was the additional projects needed by New Jersey to avoid gas tax increases. Further, the report said that the scenario of the toll increases was that Gov. Christie’s representatives at the Port Authority planned the increases and the Authority announced them, Govs. Christie and Cuomo of New York then professed outrage at the size of the increases, and the Port Authority then scaled them back. The report says all of this was an orchestrated rollout, which allowed the governors to say that there were no tax increases, as tolls, they contended, are not taxes. The Port Authority increases were not confined to motorists, as PATH rapid-transit fares were also increased.
There was also reporting on past testimony in Washington by Mr. Baroni before the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding the toll increases. Baroni sidestepped answering Lautenberg’s questions by instead raising the fact that Lautenberg for years had a free EZ-Pass for use on Port Authority facilities, and citing the number of times the Senator had used it. Baroni also had a thick black binder he was reading from, which the WNYC report suggested was full of other “dirt” to use against Sen. Lautenberg.