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PANYNJ: New Jersey Gov. Christie nominates Degnan as chairman; Sen. Schumer proposes reforms


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has nominated John Degnan, who served as New Jersey attorney general under Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne, as the new chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ).

Degnan would replace David Samson, who resigned last month amid a controversy over alleged dysfunction at the authority and investigations into potential conflicts of interest.

Christie, a Republican, reached across the political aisle by recommending Degnan, a Democrat. Christie described Degnan as a "well respected, distinguished public figure" who has served the state in various capacities for the past 30 years.

"John’s leadership ability and his experience is universally respected, both as a professional and as a volunteer when called upon and those experiences make him extremely well-suited to this next challenge," Christie said in a prepared statement. "His charge from me is to do what he has always done in public life and that is to bring his best judgment without prejudice towards any conclusions about where this agency needs to go in order to meet its challenges and to serve the toll payers of New York and New Jersey."

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier this week proposed a PANYNJ reform plan to "return it to its core mission and reenergize the agency." In a major address to past and present members of the authority's board, local business leaders in transportation, economic development and real estate, and other key stakeholders, Schumer outlined a seven-point plan to use congressional power to amend PANYNJ’s 1921 compact and restore its focus to improving and maintaining critical transportation infrastructure in the Port District, according to a press release issued by Schumer's office.

Schumer said that the seven reforms are needed to end the dysfunction of the PANYNJ, caused in part by "the dilution of the agency's core mission, poor management structure and lack of transparency." He pledged to work with present reform-minded board members and the states of New York and New Jersey to develop a reform plan and make the changes permanent by passing them into law.

Schumer recommended the following:
• The authority should develop a process for the nomination and confirmation of an executive director by the Board of Commissioners, not by the governor of one state or the other.
• The authority should propose administrative changes vesting full managerial authority and responsibility of the entire PANYNJ organization with the executive director.
• The authority should establish a permanent process to nominate individuals as commissioners to PANYNJ who possess a comprehensive financial, engineering and planning background, and no conflicts of interest related to the authority’s core mission. It should be clear that these commissioners have a fiduciary duty to PANYNJ.
• The authority should submit procedures that will allow it to have a detailed annual operating budget and a multi-year financial plan that can be adopted after public review and comment.
• They should establish procedures that will allow PANYNJ's capital budgeting to be guided by a long-term capital strategy that is regularly revised at least annually. The plan should show how the Port is prioritizing and financing projects, and only then should it be adopted after opportunities for public review and comment.
• The board's members should submit a plan to end spending on non-revenue generating state projects that are outside the core mission.
• The authority should end the acquisition of new non-revenue generating facilities and projects outside the Port District's boundaries that are not core to PANYNJ's central mission.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/2/2014