July 4, 2012
AAA says Port Authority violating federal law by spending toll money on World Trade Center
By Steve Strunsky
In a lawsuit spurred by last year's record toll hike, AAA is seeking documents it believes will show whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey routinely violates federal law by spending toll money on the World Trade Center.
In a lawsuit spurred by last year’s record toll hike, AAA is seeking documents it believes will show whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey routinely violates federal law by spending toll money on the World Trade Center.
Marta Genovese, in-house counsel for the club’s New York State chapter, said AAA lawyers plan to file a motion Friday asking a judge to force the Port Authority to turn over detailed revenue and spending figures related to the agency’s $2.7 billion reserve fund. Genovese said the figures should reveal whether it was even possible for the Port Authority to avoid using toll money to finance the trade center’s redevelopment.
"Show me what happened to our toll revenues," said Genovese, adding that AAA had received a related document, but most of the figures were blacked out. "In the middle of all of this is a big, fat pool or revenues that’s now at $2.7 billion. And you’re telling us that none of our money is in that? Well, how do we know that? They did give us a document with revenues and expenses, but everything was redacted."
The Port Authority declined to comment on the suit Tuesday.
The suit was filed by the club’s New York State and North Jersey chapters in U.S. District Court in Manhattan last September, just after the toll hike took effect. The clubs are seeking to overturn the hike on grounds that Port Authority press releases and officials’ statements said it would help pay for the trade center’s redevelopment. AAA says that would violate federal law barring agencies from spending toll money on nontransportation projects.
Despite the public statements, Port Authority lawyers have denied that toll money is spent on the trade center, arguing that because the agency’s interstate transportation network, or ITN, operates at a deficit, toll revenue from its bridges and tunnels cannot even pay for transportation projects, much less the trade center.
Word of the suit’s latest development comes a day after the Port Authority began turning over financial documents requested by the chairman of the New Jersey Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex).
On Monday, the state Office of Legislative Services received three FedEx boxes containing 13,000 pages of documents, with an index saying they related to the toll increase, the canceled ARC trans-Hudson rail tunnel, hiring practices, overtime, document requests and meeting minutes.
"We’ve got the haystack, now we’ve got to find the needle," said Wisniewski, who also chairs the state Democratic Party.
The Port Authority confirmed it had delivered the documents to Wisniewski but would not elaborate.
The agency turned over the documents voluntarily, and Wisniewski did not have to exercise the subpoena power that fellow lawmakers granted him to investigate the toll hike and other bistate financial issues. But Wisniewski was not impressed, noting that some of his requests date to October 2010, when he wrote to the Port Authority asking for documents related to Gov. Chris Christie’s cancellation of the ARC — or Access to the Region’s Core — project.
Wisniewski said he expected a preliminary report from the legislative office by the end of next week assessing what the delivery contained compared with what he had asked for.
"Right now," he said, "I don’t even have a very clear idea of exactly how responsive it is."
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