NJ’s “Shadow Governments”

December 18, 2013 Updated: December 18, 2013

I first heard about NJ’s Shadow Governments when I was invited to a press conference by State Senator Loretta Weinberg in October of 2007.

 Senator Weinberg and the Assembly members of her district, Gordon Johnson and Valerie Huttle, used the term to describe the Commissions and Authorities in NJ run by un-elected appointees. The main one being investigated in 2007, was the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority, although the Bergen County Improvement Authority, the NJ Economic Development Authority (that chose the Stronger than the Storm ad firm), the Delaware River Port Authority, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, now being hotly discussed, are some of the others.

These commissions and authorities have the responsibility to handle things like public utilities and also transportation projects, ports, tunnels, highways and bridges.  Extremely high ticket items. Where it is hard to question just how much of the exorbitant cost to run them is really necessary and how much is graft.

In NJ, these entities have the ability to spend taxpayer money like drunken sailors, and until Senator Weinberg and the District 37 team turned their legislative attention to them, had absolutely no oversight. The Governor could not veto any action they took. Due to this lack of oversight, they became like bloated patronage roach motels.  Cronies check in but they don’t check out.  Hence the term “Shadow Governments”. They serve a public government function, consume millions of taxpayer dollars, but the folks who run them are unelected, unaccountable, and their decisions cannot be questioned or reversed by any outside agency.  In 2007 – not even Governor Corzine.

Because of the enormous amount of money needed to pay 6 figure patronage salaries, they just bled NJ taxpayers.  There are many honorable workers at these agencies with technical knowhow. But they are being ordered around by political appointees more interested in redecorating lavish offices and in misusing the low paid public servants who literally do the dirty work. 

Cleaning Up NJ

The information gathered by Weinberg’s team during her Clean Up NJ campaign, ultimately helped US Attorney Chris Christie convict Joe Ferriero, which helped propel Christie to the Governor’s seat.  Christie also had more power to clean house in 2011 as Governor, thanks to the efforts of Democratic State Legislators like Loretta Weinberg who passed laws to limit the abuses of these NJ Authorities.   The only problem is now, the Governor has tremendous power over these agencies. As FDR said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

George Washington Bridge-Gate Scandal

Unfortunately, the Port Authority is an unusual animal.  It is a chimera, a creature of two states and therefore, a tougher nut to crack.  Curiously, in 2012, Christie vetoed a Bipartisan bill that would have given more oversight over the Port Authority of NY/NJ. 

For months now, Loretta Weinberg and her team have gone to many Port Authority meetings and asked many questions they were not given answers to on lane closures as well as outrageous rate hikes. It now costs $102 for a large truck to cross the GWB from NJ to NY.  This is difficult for residents in NJ to stomach considering the two political hires of Gov Christie who just resigned had a combined salary of nearly half a million dollars and one had no job description.

The Governors of both states appear to be circling the wagons around their patronage mill and people are clamming up and as of today, lawyering up.  (In an interesting twist, Wildstein chose Sharpe James’ attorney,  and Baroni chose Solomon Dwek’s.    Both those corruption cases were prosecuted by Chris Christie. )The first round of testimony last Monday in Trenton on the unannounced lane closures at the George Washington Bridge opened up a can of worms for both Governors. There is a culture of fear – it was on full display, and there are too many patronage appointments on at least the NJ side of the Hudson.  After all the developments, Cuomo’s silence is raising more questions about fears that Cuomo’s  patronage hires may be at risk as well.

On Friday at the announcement of Port Authority Deputy Director Baroni’s resignation, Gov. Christie chose a replacement, Deborah Gramiccioni, who had worked under the Corzine Administration, and who helped him go after the PVSA in 2011. In appointing Gramiccioni, a former prosecutor, the Governor referenced “Shadow Governments”.

Regardless of how US Attorney Chris Christie appeared to fight corruption, the initial reports that he was selectively prosecuting political enemies did not gain traction.   However, the Port Authority under his watch has now become a patronage mill  and he recently used the support of George Norcross of South Jersey, the biggest Democratic Party Boss in the state to win re-election.  Norcross appears to be the only Democrat in the US besides Governor Cuomo this week now defending Chris Christie in the press during this scandal.    

Making A Federal Case

It is encouraging that State Senator Weinberg is requesting that Congress look at the original Act of Congress that created the Port Authority of NY and NJ. If anyone understands how to clean up Shadow Governments NJ, it is Senator Weinberg and if she feels that Congress is the best way to make the bi-state PA/NYNJ accountable, I trust her instincts. Senator Jay Rockefeller is also requesting a Federal investigation as the lane closures interfered with Interstate Commerce.  This week as Governor Cuomo offers a hands off management style when it comes to the Port Authority matters in NJ, and Christie has already vetoed efforts at transparency in 2012, we can only get so far with reform. Going over the heads of both Christie and Cuomo and literally making a Federal case out of this, may be the only way to bring accountability to NJ’s largest and costliest, “Shadow Government”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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