Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Two Pa. officials urge Corbett to block DRPA plans

Two Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday asked Gov. Corbett to block plans by the Delaware River Port Authority to spend remaining economic-development funds on non-transportation projects in New Jersey.

Two Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday asked Gov. Corbett to block plans by the Delaware River Port Authority to spend remaining economic-development funds on non-transportation projects in New Jersey.

Auditor General Jack Wagner, who sits on the DRPA board, and State Sen. John Rafferty Jr., chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, wrote to Corbett, who is chairman of the DRPA, to object to a plan to spend about $20 million on such projects as a Camden cancer center, housing for Rutgers-Camden students, and Cooper River rowing improvements.

In separate letters, both officials urged that lawmakers strip the DRPA of the authority to engage in economic development in the future as well.

Wagner also called on Pennsylvania's legislature to give the governor the same veto power over DRPA actions that New Jersey's governor has. And he criticized the way the DRPA hired a new spokesman this week without involvement of the board.

The DRPA finance committee is to vote Wednesday on spending $29.9 million in remaining economic-development funds, the remnants of about $500 million borrowed and spent over the last 13 years on projects such as sports stadiums, concert halls, and museums.

The full board is to vote on the spending Dec. 14.

"It is critical that we fulfill our pledge to the public to discontinue such spending and instead invest in our fiscal and infrastructure needs," Wagner wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Corbett, Gov. Christie, and Wagner's fellow DRPA board members.

Wagner said the new spending plan violated a 2010 DRPA board resolution to prohibit DRPA from spending any money for projects not directly connected to the agency's four toll bridges or PATCO commuter rail line.

"I am requesting that the agency redirect all unexpended funds towards debt reduction, toll or fare reduction, and/or capital project costs, unless there is some legitimate and documented legal reason to prevent such redirection in individual cases," Wagner wrote.

In his letter, Rafferty (R., Montgomery) said all the remaining money should be used to pay down the DRPA's $1.4 billion debt or "to fund capital projects that benefit DRPA toll-payers."

"While the economic-development projects may have merit, they should be funded through sources other than DRPA user fees," Rafferty wrote to Corbett. "I had hoped your chairmanship would bring about an end to this egregious practice."

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said that Corbett did not support economic-development spending by DRPA but that the latest projects represented the final New Jersey share of spending that was authorized by previous DRPA boards.

Pennsylvania's share of the economic-development pot was all spent before Corbett took over as chairman.

Harley cited a dozen votes by Wagner for previous economic-development projects since 2005, and said, "I'm glad that he now agrees with Gov. Corbett that DRPA should not engage in economic-development projects."

In response to Rafferty, Harley said the senator "is apparently mistaken that the economic-development projects up for discussion are new."

The plan to be presented to the DRPA finance committee Wednesday calls for about $10 million of the remaining uncommitted $29.9 million to be returned to the DRPA's coffers for use on future capital projects, such as bridge repairs.

The rest, about $19.7 million, is proposed to be spent on these projects:

$6 million: a new cancer center being built at Cooper University Hospital, scheduled for completion in spring 2013.

$4.3 million: unspecified development in Camden by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, using money left over from $6 million provided by the DRPA to tear down Riverfront State Prison in 2009.

$4 million: Cooper River rowing-course improvements and other waterfront amenities planned by the Camden County Parks Department.

$2 million: student housing at Rutgers University, Camden.

$2 million: Food Bank of South Jersey.

$1 million: roadway improvements for an office, residential, and commercial development by the PATCO Ferry Avenue Station in Camden, near Lourdes Hospital.

$400,000: stabilization of Gloucester City's Freedom Pier.