The Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey did his agency no credit when he appeared at an April 18th Congressional hearing into last summer’s extortionate toll hikes. The hearing was chaired by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who introduced the Commuter Protection Act giving the federal transportation secretary power to roll back excessive toll hikes by agencies that receive federal funds. Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni’s appearance was clearly an effort to deflect questions, rather than provide answers. The concensus is that he did neither well.
In his opening statement Baroni said that the toll hikes can be blamed on “decades of excessive spending” and a $2.6 billion decline in revenues during the deep recession. But PA officials cannot deny that there would be no need for toll hikes if the agency were not underwriting the WTC reconstruction. That simple cause-and-effect has been lost on officials in both states and both sides of the political divide, but the New York and New Jersey legislatures seemed to be on track to make amends by calling for a joint hearing in March that was scheduled for April 20th on Staten Island.
Mr. Baroni was also scheduled to testify at that hearing, but an hour after the Lautenberg hearing, the joint legislative hearing was canceled due to a “scheduling conflict.” Two weeks later there has been no new date announced or any explanation of the abrupt way the matter was handled. The idea that something that has been on the calendar for over a month can be peremptorily cancelled 36-hours before the event on such flimsy grounds should have been censured by the media and the two legislatures.
If Senator Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. (R-N.Y.) suddenly discovered an urgent conflict, he should have had the courtesy to tell the public by now what the extraordinary matter was that caused the awkward cancellation and when a new date would be announced. Officials are fond of saying that they are working on “the people’s business” but how many of us can imagine informing an employer at the last minute that a high-profile meeting with a major client would have to wait until some undisclosed time because of a scheduling conflict? How would that go over? We all know the answer to that.