Remember when Chris Christie was crusading against public authorities like the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission?
It really happened. But you could be forgiven if you forgot, since Thursday's rejection of a bill to reform the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey represents a giant slap to the face of drivers who are forced to commute into Manhattan each day, paying tolls that for the most part rise on the whims of an agency that was created to build and maintain bridges but now is content to rack up huge bills over a downtown Manhattan skyscraper.
Essentially, the bill — which had an identical companion in New York, a rare sign of the two states agreeing on something other than liberalism — would have improved transparency in an agency wrapped in more darkness than a typical Los Angeles hotel room. Most importantly — requiring public hearings before instituting toll increases. The agency held hearings before the most recent, massive hike, but cleverly ran them simultaneously in difficult-to-find locales (that last link is a video worth watching). Even if you argue the agency already is taking steps like this to reform itself, a bill like this certainly does no harm in reminding drivers that the agency is in the legislative crosshairs.
Anyway, the governor essentially gave the bill a conditional veto so as to put the focus on problem authorities like the PVSC — which is, to be fair, a problem — and take it off the Port Authority altogether. Christie's solution for the Port Authority, apparently, is to pack it with his friends, a time-honored method of busting corruption and ensuring the best in public service. For example, in another use of money well spent on the public service side, the agency today is unveiling a hologram at Newark airport; it will offer passengers greetings such as "Your flight has been oversold," "Your flight is delayed" and "Sorry, your checked bags are in Detroit." The price for the so-called avatar: $60,000, or 5,000 trips over the George Washington Bridge paying cash.
UPDATE: I heard from the Port Authority today (Monday), and they told me my original figure from the Associated Press — $180,000 — was incorrect. Actually, all three major airports are getting one $60,000 avatar each, for a total of $180,000. I just changed the math above.
Bold steps like this are just the ticket to proving the port authority is moving past its corrupt image. In the mean time, commuters, load up those E-ZPass tags and enjoy the ride — on outdated, crumbling infrastructure.
I'm even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.