Pennsylvania lawmakers who want to stop the Delaware River Port Authority from lavishly spending toll revenues on dubious economic-development projects have the right intention.
But it's too late to do anything about money already spent, and their bill's fate is so murky it may not be worth pursuing.
Over the last decade, the DRPA has shelled out $375 million for development projects that include local sports stadiums, museums, concert venues, and, most recently, a memorial to the President's House near Independence Hall.
Those projects might be deserving of some public funding. But granting them cash from the DRPA seems a long way from the agency's core mission to operate and maintain its four bridges and the PATCO High-Speed Line, or to help develop the port on both sides of the river.
The economic-development spending has understandably outraged commuters, who were saddled with hefty toll and fare hikes last year, with another increase set for 2010.
The DRPA says it will no longer contribute to such development deals (after it spends the remainder of $35 million left over from previous borrowing).
But angry commuters have every reason to be skeptical.
Some lawmakers want to make sure the agency keeps its word with a bill introduced by State Rep. Paul Clymer (R., Bucks) and 16 cosponsors. It would amend DRPA's charter to prohibit the use of tolls and train fares "for economic projects that do not pertain to maintenance of bridges, roads, and rail lines."
New Jersey Assemblyman Scott Rudder (R., Burlington) has said he is interested in introducing similar legislation in Trenton.
Getting the legislation enacted, though, will be extremely difficult. A charter change requires approval of both state legislatures, the governors of both states, Congress, and the president.
Gov. Rendell, who serves as DRPA chairman, and Gov. Corzine have supported spending DRPA money on economic development. They argue that the projects are crucial for the region's growth, will help lure business and tourists, and ultimately increase DRPA's customer base.
The last charter change was granted in 1992, when DRPA was given permission to fund economic-development projects, and its area of responsibility was extended to Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties.
Since then, the DRPA has overstepped its boundaries at times with harebrained projects such as the plan to build a tram across the Delaware.
With its unchecked spending authority, DRPA finds itself $1.2 billion in debt. The agency also says it needs about $1 billion over the next five years to pay for bridge repairs and other maintenance.