Port Authority Must Open Its Budget Process: Report

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UPDATED: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- a bi-state agency that controls the region's airports and Hudson River crossings, not to mention the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site -- needs to overhaul its budgeting process, says a fiscal watchdog group.

After studying the Port Authority -- and comparing it to other state entities -- the Citizens Budget Commission found a lot of room for improvement.

"The operating budget should be adopted only after opportunities for public review," wrote Carol Kellerman, CBC president, in a letter to Port executive director Pat Foye. She suggested the authority follow the practices of New York's MTA and allow for several months between the release of its preliminary budget and its formal adoption.

The CBC also noted the agency's current budget is "a shorter and less detailed document" than in previous years.

The Port Authority's 2013 operating budget is $2.57 billion.

The CBC's other recommendations -- there are six in total -- include providing more detailed budget information, adopting multi-year, long term forecasting for both operating and capital budgets, providing the board and the public with frequent financial reports, and setting specific performance measures.

It's hardly the first time the Port Authority has been called on the carpet for a lack of transparency. A 2012 audit of the agency found "a challenged and dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership, a siloed underlying bureaucracy, poorly coordinated capital planning processes, insufficient cost controls, and a lack of transparent and effective oversight of the World Trade Center program that has obscured full awareness of billions of dollars in exposure to the Port Authority."

It's also recently been sued by the AAA over the agency's 2012 toll hikes -- an issue that led a New Jersey lawmaker to hit Port executives with subpoenas.

Said lawmaker -- NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski -- applauded the CBC's report Tuesday, saying "(their) recommendations rightly focus on the Port Authority's fiscal problems and its disturbing lack of transparency for a public agency." He added "the CBC's recommendations represent a good start."

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said “many of the CBC’s recommendations are already in place or underway at the Port Authority and...the soon-to-be released capital budget is currently undergoing one of the most deliberate, detailed evaluations in agency history. The budget will lay out not only a short-term spending plan, but also a long-term capital strategy and vision for the bistate agency."