The George Washington Bridge (photo by Kate Hinds)
The conflict between New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is escalating -- and now another U.S. Senator has added his signature to a letter formally complaining about the behavior of a Port Authority executive at a hearing in April.
The letter charges that Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, "failed to meet the basic standards of civility and decorum" during his testimony at the hearing. It is addressed to senior executives at the Port Authority and co-signed by Lautenberg and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV).
The bruising hearing, ostensibly about toll hikes, quickly devolved into a barbed back-and-forth between Lautenberg and Baroni. Lautenberg wanted Baroni to answer questions about the fairness of the agency's 2011 toll hikes. Baroni replied that "it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them" -- a reference to the senator's use of an agency-funded EZPass. Many listeners perceived the remark as an attempt to embarrass the senator. (Listen to some audio from the hearing here.)
The comment rattled Lautenberg and Baroni avoided answering a key question: what did New Jersey Governor Christie know about the toll hikes and when did he know it?
The Senate's Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rockefeller, later followed up by sending questions in writing to Baroni. But the Port Authority said releasing any communications between the agency and the governors' offices would be "inappropriate."
In the letter, the two U.S. senators do a slow burn. "This repeated failure to respond to the Committee's questions not only shows a lack of respect for legitimate congressional oversight; it also directly contradicts repeated assertions by Port Authority officials that the agency is increasing its transparency." The last line of the letter reads: "Please provide this information to the Committee no later than August 14, 2012."
A Port Authority spokesman would not comment.