DEAR GOV. Christie:
You don't know us, because we live across the river in Philadelphia, but we need your help. Yes, we have our own governor here in Pennsylvania, but between us, he's probably not going to be much help here.
That's because we're writing about the Delaware River Port Authority, the bistate public agency that collects $300 million a year from tolls, fares and other sources, and spends it without having to answer to anyone.
The thing is, the DRPA needs to be blown up. And we think you're the logical guy to do it. You're newly in office, you move fast, and you strike us as the type of guy who doesn't mind breaking a few chairs while rearranging the living room.
The string of abuses, waste and lack of accountability featured in news accounts on the DRPA in the last few weeks has been depressing. Why are they hiking the bridge tolls to $5- so more of the politically connected can make more money?
Like we said, we doubt our governor is planning to do much. For one thing, he's out of office soon. The Pennsylvania side of the board was appointed by him. And the chairman of that board, John Estey, is his former chief of staff. Estey is also a partner in a law firm that got $3 million in DRPA contracts last year. Does this seem right to you? It sure doesn't to us.
Everyone is falling all over each other to come up with DRPA "reforms," including Pennsylvania's auditor general and its treasurer.
But, Gov. Christie, these guys are also on the DRPA board!
We thought these were two independent offices that are supposed to serve as watchdogs in the state. Sure, they're ex-officio, but did their presence on the DRPA board compromise their ability to root out abuse and waste of the public's money? Why didn't they do anything sooner?
While you're making this agency more transparent and accountable to the public, can you do us a favor and not call the changes "reforms"? That word is being tarnished lately by the DRPA board members who are for "reform" only now that a little light has shone into the agency. What also worries us is that "reform" tends to be cyclical: Changes are made to shut up critics, but once the public attention goes away, so do the reforms. And once the current players move on, we don't want a new set of players of either political party doing business as usual.
Transforming the DRPA won't be easy, but you will have some help. N.J. Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco, R-Gloucester and Camden, and Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, are working on a bill that would change the federal compact governing the agency. (Don't ask us why no one from Philadelphia's delegation is involved; we'd have to order more ink for that one.)
Also, we're betting that members of the public in both states are disgusted enough to support your efforts. In return, maybe you can roll back that toll hike and make it contingent upon certain performance goals. In fact, why don't you have toll takers actually give drivers $4 back as a small token of appreciation for our bankrolling of bloated salaries, free car rides, free tolls for family members and other (largely unaudited) spending of the agency - to say nothing of the "economic development" role DRPA has played as a new way to squander public money without having to answer to anyone.