Thursday, December 25, 2014

The secret reason why it costs $13 to cross the Hudson

Hudson River toll hike was a scam to enrich Christie's friends -- are you surpirsed?

The secret reason why it costs $13 to cross the Hudson

OK, maybe by this point you won't be shocked to learn that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was a cesspool of corruption, patronage, etc., after the ascension of Chris Christie in 2010, but the campaign to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from unwitting motorists and then abuse that money for political ends would have even made Machiavelli blush.

Shawn Boburg of the Bergen Record -- who just won a prestigious Polk Award for his coverage of the George Washington Bridge fiasco and could well win a Pulitzer -- blew the lid today off the scandal behind the scandal  behind the scandal.

George Washington Bridge, Governor Christie’s top two executives at the Port Authority led a secretive campaign to quickly push through controversial toll hikes on the Hudson River bridges and tunnels by drowning out criticism, limiting public input and portraying the governors of New York and New Jersey as fiscal hawks who reined in an out-of-control agency.

At its heart was a plan to have the Port Authority, an independent bi-state agency, propose an enormous toll hike — a $6 increase that would bring the E-ZPass toll to $14 by 2014 — so that the governors could then scale it back. The smaller increases that were ultimately approved in 2011 — $4.50 over four years — allowed both governors to claim credit while they set the stage for each state to claim hundreds of millions of dollars to fund pet projects not directly related to the Port Authority.

Boburg reveals how the campaign was run from a "war room" that was so secretive that a janitor got in trouble for entering it to fix a leaky pipe, how the key figures from Bridgegate like Christie's high school non-friend David Wildstein and Bill Baroni were right in the middle of this, how Christie himself lied to the press and the public (stunning, I know) about what he knew and when he knew it about the toll-hike scheme, how the Laborers' union prostituted itself for this scam, and how public hearings were scheduled at strange times and places to silence the public and elected officials who weren't in on the con.

The end gain was a political slush fund of epic proportions:

What neither Christie nor the Port Authority mentioned publicly at the time of the toll-hike approval was that part of the agreement was that each state would get its own project slush fund out of the future toll money. The agency’s $27.6 billion 10-year capital plan, approved last month, includes $942 million for what is called a “regional bank” for both states to dip into over the next decade.

The Christie crew would have you believe that this is simply politics as usual -- and while some patronage and some rewarding of supporters is all a part of the game, the governor and his henchmen pushed this to the edge of the propriety cliff -- and then right on over the edge. But what really stands out is this: Their utter contempt for us chumps who fish through our wallet for 13 clams every time we cross the Hudson, who don't have access to the state helicopter when we commute.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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