The New York Times recently peered into the guts of how the Port Authority has operated since Chris Christie took office in 2010. The results probably don't come as a surprise to anyone from New Jersey, but will still be another nail in the "Christie 2016" coffin. It can safely be concluded that the New Jersey side of the Port Authority is part and parcel of the Christie political machine.
The authority became a means to reward friends (or hire them) and punish adversaries, and a bank to be used when Mr. Christie sought to avoid raising taxes. Major policy initiatives, such as instituting a large toll and fare increase in 2011, were treated like political campaigns to burnish the governor’s image.When Christie took office, he made much of curbing the Port Authority's reputation for patronage and corruption--for instance, under his prodding, former Port Authority commissioners lost the right to free tolls for life. But it was only a ruse. Soon after he took office, he ordered his appointees at the Port Authority--led by Bill Baroni, David Wildstein and David Samson--to demand that it fund a big project for New Jersey whenever one was planned for New York. For instance, when the Port Authority paid for rebuilding the World Trade Center, in exchange New Jersey got the Pulaski Skyway between Jersey City and Newark rebuilt. The skyway may have needed upgrading, but according to the NYT it's very unusual for the Port Authority to fund roads that don't connect the two states.
These maneuvers emboldened the Christie team, former Port Authority colleagues say, to close down the lanes on the world’s busiest bridge — ensnaring them in state and federal investigations.
But then again, in light of something else Christie did not long after taking office, it makes sense. There had been plans for a railroad tunnel under the Hudson River that would have made it easier for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains to get through. It was to have been funded with $1.8 billion of Port Authority money. But Christie canceled the project and dumped the $1.8 billion into the state's transportation trust fund rather than raise the gas tax.
Christie also used the Port Authority to help grease the wheels for his reelection bid. He steered billions of dollars worth of Port Authority projects to towns that he wanted to win. For instance, he got $25 billion to build a new PATH station in Harrison. Its mayor was the first Democrat to endorse Christie for reelection. His campaign team crafted a list of 100 mayors whose endorsements their boss wanted. The top 20 on the list got pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center.
But perhaps the biggest example of Christie's duplicity came with the 2011 toll hikes across the Hudson. As most people from the tri-state know, they went up by $4.50 for cars. But according to the NYT, Baroni, Samson and Wildstein attended a meeting in Trenton where Christie let them in on a devious scheme to put one over on voters. He directed his people on the board to propose an increase of $6--a proposal that he would loudly oppose in public. Baroni then set up a confidential war room at Port Authority headquarters on Park Avenue South to monitor coverage of the planned increase. The goal was to make it look like Christie had worked to take the sting out of the original plan. But that scheme may end up being part of Christie's undoing. When the state assembly's transportation committee tried to get information about communications between the Port Authority and Trenton, it initially went nowhere. So committee chairman John Wisniewski persuaded his colleagues to grant his committee subpoena power--a power that it used to blow the Bridgegate scandal wide open.