- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Monday rejected New Jersey lawmakers’ latest efforts to reform the powerful bistate entity that controls the region’s airports, bridges and tunnels. But a key Democratic state senator said it’s time to accept an overhaul enacted in New York that Christie supports.

Christie conditionally vetoed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reform legislation, rejecting provisions that he said would exempt union members from inspector general fraud investigations and require costly engineering audits for capital projects over $500 million. Instead, Christie recommended lawmakers adopt a bill that New York lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted in 2015.

“The present bill also imposes redundant and costly burdens that will hinder the Port Authority’s ability to efficiently accomplish its mission,” Christie said in his conditional veto statement.

The New York legislation establishes whistleblower protections, calls for open meetings and the establishment of a rotating chairmanship between New York and New Jersey. Tom Kean Jr., New Jersey’s Senate Republican leader, is trying to get similar legislation approved in New Jersey.

The calls for reforms stemmed from the Port Authority’s reputation as dysfunctional. But the effort to reform intensified after the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal in 2013 that resulted in two former allies of Christie being indicted on wire fraud and other charges. Another former ally pleaded guilty in the case, which has yet to go to trial. Christie has denied any involvement and has not been charged.

Democratic lawmakers said the scandal shows why it’s important for both states’ legislatures to have subpoena power over the powerful agency, which has an $8 billion budget.

That reform was the sticking point for New Jersey lawmakers, but Christie’s veto on Monday was enough to change Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon’s mind and accept the New York reforms.

“I’ve spent five years working on this and don’t want to be an impediment to reform,” Gordon said. “We don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said she’s not ruling out accepting Christie’s proposal, but first wants to talk to her colleagues. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, the Assembly sponsor, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Both are Democrats.

Lawmakers are considering the reforms as the agency prepares to undertake replacing the nation’s busiest bus terminal in New York, a project that could cost from $7 billion to $10 billion and take several years to complete.

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