Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Lautenberg, Port Authority Exec Spar Over Tolls
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
A Senate committee hearing on the fairness of toll hikes devolved into a slugfest between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Lautenberg had a line of questions prepared, including determining when the governors of New Jersey and New York knew about last summer’s steep Hudson River toll hikes — and whether Baroni thought they were fair.
But Baroni responded by pointing out that the senator used a free EZPass a total of 284 times to cross the river. (The pass was a perk — since discontinued —available to Port Authority commissioners, which Lautenberg once was.) The senator became testy and the exchanges became acrimonious. "I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness," he told Baroni.
But Baroni retorted: "It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them."
Lautenberg went on to grill Baroni about accusations of political patronage at the Port Authority, and told Baroni he had two weeks to supply the Senate committee with the names of people Governor Chris Christie had recommended for employment at the Port Authority.
"Sure!" said Baroni. "Should we go through them now?
"Your impertinence is barely tolerable," Lautenberg told Baroni.
Later in the hearing, which stretched to almost 70 minutes, Baroni described the agency's plans to expand platforms at Harrison's PATH station. "Under the plan, we're going to be able to go to ten cars, and that's going to help us bring more rail —"
The senator abruptly hit the gavel twice. "Thank you very much. This hearing is over."
Soon after the hearing, Lautenberg's office issued a statement that read, in part: “Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy.”
The Christie administration was prepared with its response, as well. Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, said in an email that “the hearing was a partisan charade.” The email continued: “Sure, hold a hearing, ask all the relevant and necessary questions you like, but Senator Lautenberg should have spared us the hypocrisy and fake outrage.”
You can watch a archived video of Wednesday's hearing here.