Behind that door are three men in a room...
Behind that door are three men in a room...

The Real Reason Cuomo And Christie Vetoed Port Authority Reform

Illustration for article titled The Real Reason Cuomo And Christie Vetoed Port Authority Reform

Everything you need to know about why Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie vetoed much needed legislation reforming the famously corrupt and bloated Port Authority of New York and New Jersey can be gleaned by observing when they announced their vetoes. Cuomo and Christie have had this legislation on their desks for months, yet they waited until late on the Saturday night between Christmas and New Year's to announce that they had rejected the bills. They waited until no one was paying attention and until it was all but too late for the outgoing New York legislature to return to Albany to attempt a veto override before the new legislature is sworn in next week. The new legislature in Albany would have to pass the legislation all over again as they can't vote to override a veto of a bill passed by the previous legislature.

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This was a rather naked power move by both governors and the timing was entirely by design. They had to make this move in this way because the public very much wants the opaque, bloated and corrupt Port Authority reformed and Cuomo and Christie want to preserve as much of the status quo as possible. That's why they accompanied their veto announcement of the reform plan that unanimously passed the legislatures of both states by floating their own plan to "reform" the Port Authority on their own terms.

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And let's be clear about what just happened. This wasn't about differences in policy. This wasn't about differences in philosophies. It wasn't partisan or ideological. This was a straight-up power move by Cuomo and Christie, though one they felt compelled to hide from public scrutiny as much as possible by pulling the daggers in the dead of night. If you wait for months to pull a move like this late in the night of a holiday weekend, it's not because you give a shit about good governance.

You see, the Port Authority has been a potent source of both patronage and enormous sums of money for disposal at the whims of governors of both states since its creation all the way back in 1921. The Port Authority was designed from the beginning to be an unaccountable black box under the control of these governors. They are pots of much needed gold in lean budgetary times. They've long been great places to stash cronies in cushy jobs and to move around enormous sums of money, more than the operating budgets of 26 states, with little to no public oversight. All that money sloshing around an entity devoted at least nominally to executing and maintaining massive public works projects means that the governors who control the Authority through appointments and the rest have billions to award in contracts to friends or to deny to foes.

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This legislation, which would have imposed much greater transparency forcing the Authority to adhere to open meetings laws. It would have created whistleblower protections. It would have mandated that the Port Authority submit itself to an annual independent audit of its finances. It would have created an inspector general within the Authority.

It would have even, and this is hard to believe necessary to ask of those appointed to run any public or private endeavor, have mandated that Port Authority officials promise to act in good faith by putting their fiduciary responsibilities before their own interests. Think about that. We need to ask nicely that these people act in good faith by serving the public interest before lining their own pockets or those of politically connected cronies. That's....a pretty damn low bar indeed.

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But none of these things serve Cuomo or Christie's interests. More transparency, at least more significant transparency, isn't good for them. Just ask, ahem, Chris Christie. Independent financial audits are definitely not good for them. The less known by the public about the billions shuffled around by the Port Authority the better. More eyes on the money that both Cuomo and Christie use as a slush fund is bad for them. None of this is good for business. An inspector general is probably fine with them as long as you know who gets to choose, either personally or through their appointees, who gets that gig.

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And this was supposed to be just the first round of reforms to the Port Authority. This legislation contained all the "easy stuff." That's why it sailed unanimously through Albany and Trenton. The really contentious proposals were to be taken up next year and were expected to be a much harder sell to both lawmakers and the governors. Now the "easy stuff" was strangled in a crib in the middle of a long December night.

And that's why both governors vetoed this overwhelmingly popular and desperately needed legislation in the way that they did. They first hoped that very few people would notice. Then they made sure that there was little to no chance that their vetoes could be overridden, though vetoes in New York and New Jersey are vanishingly rare. And they've countered with their own package of "reforms" that they'll half heartedly push for in Albany and Trenton for the next few months, proposals that are significantly weaker than the "easy stuff" they killed.

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If they pass, they get to take credit for "reforming" the notoriously corrupt Port Authority. If they don't, all the better! And they're reasonably sure that very few people will remember that midnight veto back at Christmas anyway. It's much more important to for Cuomo and Christie to look like reformers than for them to actually reform anything.

No matter what happens, the legislation that found unanimous bipartisan support in both state capitols, the same legislation that GOP state Senator Andrew Lanza says he will reintroduce when the new legislature is seated in Albany next week, is dead on arrival. It's not likely to be revived in that form again.

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And it will be business as usual at the Port Authority for years to come.

Same as it ever was.

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(image via Gov Cuomo's Flickr)

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