Issue of the Week

Port Authority

01 May 00

THE LOWDOWN:

The Port Authority was founded in 1921 to construct a rail freight tunnel under the Hudson river. And while it never completed that project, it is responsible for many of the huge infrastructure projects in the City - the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the second deck of the GW Bridge, the containerports at Newark and Elizabeth, the PATH system, and the World Trade Center, to name a few. Also in its purview are the management of JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports; some of the trans-Hudson ferry service; waterfront and commercial projects; waterfront development; and of course, port commerce.

It is not only its size that makes the Port Authority an anomalous institution, but also its bi-state configuration. The Port Authority is governed by a board of twelve commissioners, to which the Governors of New York and New Jersey each appoint six members. Any decision by the Commissioners can be vetoed by either of the Governors, or more frequently, a Governor can block passage through his Commissioners. This structure has allowed collaborative projects to move forward on a large scale, but since it ensures that the Authority is not accountable to any one elected official, the bi-state configuration has also been the source of considerable dissension and deadlock.

BATTLE OF THE GOVERNORS

The Battle of the Governors is a basic tug of war over money and politics in which Whitman and Pataki hold Port Authority projects hostage to their political agendas. In one recent spat, Pataki was unwilling to sink $1.6 billion in subsidies to keep Maersk-Sea Land shipping in New Jersey (an issue that has yet to be resolved) , and Whitman, blocked $2 billion in private investment by airlines at Kennedy and Newark until a suitable outcome on the shipping issue was reached.

In an effort to collect on some of the funds of which New York feels deprived, Governor Pataki proposed turning over the World Trade Center to a private developer. The PA, a quasi-governmental agency, does not pay property taxes on the World Trade Center; it does pay the City $25 million, but taxes at full market value are estimated to be around $100 million. As incentive to private developers, some New Jersey Commissioners suggested passing along the tax breaks -- $75 million in tax revenue that the City could kiss goodbye. Needless to say, negotiations are still in the works.

With 7,200 employees, and a 1999 annual budget of $3.6 billion, the Port Authority has a tremendous impact on the region's activities. Capital spending totaled $992 million. Some 86 million passengers used its airports; 65 million riders took its PATH train, and 121.4 million vehicles used its interstate crossings (eastbound only!).

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - The official site with all the official numbers, and none of the politics.

"Port Buck Must Stop Here" - The ongoing battle over the Elizabeth port.

"Port Authority's Tall Order" - Describes the squabble over the leasing of the WTC.

THE MAYORAL AXE TO GRIND: AIRPORTS

The Mayor is a vocal critic of the Port Authority's constant political deadlock. Like others, Hizzoner sees the Port Authority as the Robin Hood of the metro area, funneling money from New York to New Jersey. He wants the City to take back JFK and LaGuardia airports, which are currently leased to the Port Authority, and has already issued an RFP to expedite that process. As early as 1996, Mayor Giuliani called on state political leaders to put an end to the "very very sweet political arrangements for people in New Jersey" whereby somewhere between "$200-$250 million flows from New York City to New Jersey."

New York's Top Jock - Terry Golway describes Giuliani's jihad against the Port Authority.

1999 State of the City Address - With little of his usual sourness, the Mayor states matter-of-factly, that New York has to "get out of the Port Authority."

Finally, the recent scandal surrounding Executive Director Robert Boyle has not alleviated criticism about the Port Authority. He was recently implicated in an unsavory deal made in the early 1990s, as a member of a hospital board of directors. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has filed a civil lawsuit against Boyle for arranging for the hospital to lease office space which he and partner Albert Pirro had surreptitiously acquired for that purpose.

"Boyle Charged" - See Goth Gaz news coverage of the story.

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