Chris Christie and the latest Port Authority scam: Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on March 03, 2014

Gov. Chris Christie, left, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now are alleged to have engineered a phony toll hike drama in 2011 by ordering oversized toll and fare increases that allowed the cooperating politicians to score political points with commuters by order the increases be scaled back. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, left, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, right, at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremony marking the 12th Anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. David Handschuh/New York Daily News)


Gov. Chris Christie has another Port Authority scam to explain, this time over the killer toll hikes at the Hudson River crossings that he approved in the summer of 2011.

At the time, the governor expressed shock that the Port Authority would dare to propose roughly doubling the tolls over a few years.

Now we learn it was all an act. According to six people who worked at the Port Authority that summer, Christie knew about the toll hikes in advance. In a tawdry bit of political theater, he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo got the Port Authority to inflate its initial request so they could trim it down to size and appear to be champions of hard-pressed commuters.

“It was all bullshit,” one of the sources told the Star-Ledger’s Steve Strunksy.

Christie is refusing to discuss it. But the legislative committee investigating the Port Authority has issued subpoenas, so we will eventually hear the grisly details.

These theatrics are only the start of it. The bigger problem is that the Port Authority has become a piggy bank that both governors rely on to finance pet projects with minimal accountability. The redevelopment of the World Trade Center is a big one. So is the $1 billion repair to the Pulaski Skyway.

Those projects are expensive, and help explain why New Jersey motorists will be paying an obscene cash toll of $15 to cross the Hudson by the end of 2015.

The political benefit to Christie is enormous. He grabbed $1.8 billion of Port Authority money that had been set aside for the ARC tunnel under the Hudson, then used it to fund his own transit projects. That’s allowed him to avoid raising the gas tax.

But should the Port Authority be straying so far from its core mission, to improve interstate transportation? Why is this secretive agency financing the Pulaski Skyway project? And why is it spending so much money on real estate?

“It’s a slush fund,” says Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chairman of the investigative committee.

This agency has gone rogue. Its 10-year capital plan includes $942 million for a “regional bank” that both states can dip into for discretionary projects. The specific projects have not been identified.

That capital plan needs to be revisited. The Port Authority’s mission needs to be scaled back. And the governor needs to apologize for lying about the trickery he used to escape accountability for the toll hike.

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