NEWARK, N.J. - The head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey criticized a pair of lawsuits Thursday that were recently filed by retirees seeking to restore free E-ZPass benefits.
Executive Director Patrick Foye said he had requested that New York and New Jersey tax authorities investigate whether the retirees owed taxes, interest, and penalties on the free benefits they received until the program was discontinued last year.
"This case, which involves Port Authority pensioners suing to enjoy a toll-free retirement, is offensive to me," Foye said in a statement.
Using a free E-ZPass daily would amount to about $2,000 in tax-free benefits a year, Foye argued.
Ed Walsh, the spokesman for the New York Department of Taxation and Finance, said the agency had been asked to look into it. A spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Taxation did not comment on whether the office had been contacted by Port Authority officials.
Two former Port Authority police officers filed separate suits last month to restore the free E-ZPass and parking privileges they claimed they were promised or contractually owed.
Thomas Westfield, a retired Port Authority detective sergeant, said he filed his suit himself but is seeking class-action status on behalf of more than 400 Port Authority retirees who had also filed notices of claim to take legal action over the issue.
"I think that's ludicrous, and it smacks of retaliation," Westfield said of Foye's statement, adding that Foye had been head of the agency for only a few months.
"I think Mr. Foye should get his feet wet in the Port Authority, and find out what transpired, before he comments. If it's an attempt to get us to back down, I'm not going to back down," Westfield said.
Michael Shuhala, a retired Port Authority police detective who is a lawyer and a Municipal Court judge in Cliffside Park, filed a lawsuit last Friday on behalf of himself, claiming the privileges were revoked without due process. He did not return a call for comment Thursday, but he told the Associated Press on Wednesday that those who spent their careers working in law enforcement for the agency had earned the benefits.
The Port Authority eliminated free toll privileges in 2010 after Gov. Christie criticized toll-payer-funded perks. The changes, which took effect Jan. 1, 2011, applied to non-revenue-producing E-ZPasses for agency commissioners, retirees, and nonrepresented employees hired after the 9/11 attacks. The agency said the move would save the agency about $1.5 million a year.
Those employed with the agency on or before Sept. 11, 2001, continue to receive free E-ZPass tolls for commuting purposes only. Those perks were extended to staffers displaced by the Sept. 11 attacks, which forced them to commute to and from different locations than the Port Authority's World Trade Center headquarters. The perk is scheduled to end when the Port Authority reestablishes its headquarters at the World Trade Center site in 2014.
Marked emergency vehicles and the spouses of Port Authority employees killed in the World Trade Center attacks in 1993 and 2001 continue to receive the free E-ZPass benefit, according to the agency.
The Port Authority estimates it has about 3,900 retired employees.