When, in 2011, Governor Chris Christie did an end-run around Port Authority rules to siphon $1.8 billion in PA funds for pet projects in New Jersey, the New York side of the PA, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, went along. Why? As Christie Watch has learned, the New York PA officials had their own concerns—namely, getting the new World Trade Center built—and, worse, in the words of one former PA official, they didn’t want “to go to war with Christie.”
Christie may have hoped that last week’s resignation of Port Authority chairman David Samson, a Christie political mentor, would end the headlines linking his administration to unethical and possibly illegal activity at the Port Authority. But new revelations are already coming out about how he pressured legal staff at the PA to find ways to justify a money grab that they warned he couldn’t do.
As Christie Watch has reported, in October, 2010 Christie suddenly cancelled the $8.6 billion ARC tunnel, which had been in the planning stages for more than a decade and half and for which more than $400 million had already been spent on engineering, property acquisition and other expenses. He wanted to use the $1.8 billion that had been allocated to New Jersey from the Port Authority for the tunnel to bail out the Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for rebuilding and fixing New Jersey bridges and roads.
The fund was bankrupt. Christie, holding fiercely to his image as a non-tax Republican, was determined not to raise New Jersey’s gas tax, one of the lowest in the country.
At that time, one of the major state projects that needed funding was rebuilding the Pulaski Skyway and related roadways, a key link between New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, and the Holland Tunnel that goes to New York City. The only problem was that for historical reasons, the Holland Tunnel and its road and bridge links were outside the jurisdiction of the Port Authority.
No PA money can be used for such projects unless okayed by the legislatures of both states. PA lawyers warned Christie’s political operatives at the agency, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, that they had grave concerns about the legality of using the money for the Pulaski Skyway. They feared it would open the agency up to lawsuits, according to investigative reporter Shawn Boburg in the Bergen Record.
Soon after the ARC tunnel was killed, New Jersey officials started thinking about using the money for the Pulaski Skyway, and the PA legal staff recommended the proper way would be to go to both state legislatures for approval. According to the Record, without clearance from either lawyers or state legislators, Christie announced he would move forward:
But two months later, on Jan. 6, 2011, without going to state lawmakers or getting sign-off from the Port Authority’s legal team, Christie announced that the Port Authority would provide the money to the state Department of Transportation for the Pulaski Skyway, the Wittpenn Bridge on Route 7, Route 139 and Portway New Road.
A memo later on from Carlene McIntyre, assistant general counsel of the PA warned: