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DRPA spends cash like an addict takes drugs

Geographically, Pennsylvania and New Jersey meet in the middle of a river. Politically, it's more like a swamp.

The fetid governmental backwater known as the Delaware River Port Authority seems to go on and on, its primordial practices unaffected by any amount of tough talk from the two states' politicians — right up to the ethically erect former lawmen occupying the governor's offices.

After much pointless posturing and wringing of hands, the DRPA is poised to belch forth its latest round of largely indefensible spending. If confirmed by a vote of the agency's full board this week, nearly $20 million in bridge tolls and train fares will effectively go to pet projects, many of which stand to benefit private, politically connected interests. Leading the list of beneficiaries, it will surprise very few people to learn, is an institution headed by South Jersey Democratic chieftain George Norcross.

A DRPA committee has approved a $6 million gift to Cooper University Hospital in Camden to help it build a new cancer center. It also agreed to spend $4.3 million on unspecified development in Camden, and about the same to make the Cooper River more suitable for canoeing. Another $2 million is to be thrown in for area food banks — presumably in an effort to coat the proceedings with a thin veneer of holiness.

All this looks likely to get the blessing not only of a DRPA board that has repeatedly sworn to have spent its last half a billion on projects unrelated to its bridges and rail line, but also of the area's favorite pair of self-appointed fiscal warriors, Govs. Christie and Corbett. With public finances straining everywhere, tolls leaping skyward, and exotic financial instruments devouring the DRPA's budget at the speed of E-ZPass, how could this possibly be?

We're told that the DRPA has made certain promises over the years; that Pennsylvania already spent its "share" of the spoils, and now New Jersey must do the same; that another $10 million is being spent, in a "compromise," on things the agency is actually responsible for. All of which seeks to justify the DRPA's malfeasance by the same corrupt precepts that enabled it in the first place.

Last week, after wanly describing the latest porkapalooza as consisting of "worthy and appropriate projects ... to which we do not object," Christie spokesman Mike Drewniak vowed, with unintentionally comic timing, "But make no mistake, this is the end of economic-development projects for DRPA." It reminds one of St. Augustine's famous prayer: "Grant me chastity and continence — but not yet."