NJ.com- The Port Authority already has an inspector general, but New York governor Andrew Cuomo wants to hire his own personal Clouseau, an investigator whom he can use to torment his political adversaries.
The Port Authority already has six commissioners on the board appointed by the governor, but Cuomo wants the power to whack them en masse if they don't bend to his political whims.
The Port Authority is a massive agency with bilateral authority that serves millions of commuters from both sides of the Hudson, but Cuomo has decided that his priorities are the only ones that matter.
So it comes down to this: The governor's shimmering infrastructure legacy is dying from a thousand bureaucratic paper cuts, so he'll do what desperate people do - smear a public servant with baseless slander, then stack the deck with toadies.
Cuomo made this arrogant power play Wednesday, and it serves as a valuable lesson as this tedious pas-de-deux over a new Port Authority Bus Terminal drags on.
The governor coaxed his Legislature (with a pay hike, of course) into considering a "oversight" proposal that would greatly enhance his dominion in the PA - with the power to appoint a new inspector and the muscle to replace commissioners - and it is a brazen assault on the agency's independence and on Chairman John Degnan's integrity.
It is also a reminder that anyone who is Machiavellian in his means is Machiavellian in his causes - which you expect from Cuomo, who entered office with the promise to clean up the Albany cesspool by appointing an independent commission, only to neuter that commission once it started dropping subpoenas on the governor's friends and donors.
Degnan has been a superb advocate for New Jersey's interests, which is why Gov. Christie appointed him, but the chairman has also made all the cogent arguments for why replacing the third-world bus terminal benefits New York - including tax revenue, economic activity, jobs, and the fact that 30 percent of the terminal's patrons are New Yorkers.
But Cuomo, reneging on a previous agreement, flinched at the $3.5 billion down payment preferred by Degnan and other board members, and that was followed by proxy attacks and a smear campaign. The governor charged that Degnan's hard line is related to his son working in the Christie Administration - never mind that New Jersey had been squawking about a new terminal two years before Philip Degnan became our state comptroller.
Just in case Cuomo hasn't noticed: The Port Authority's current inspector general dismissed the conflict-of-interest allegation against the chairman last month.
So Cuomo's solution is to hire another IG who can "investigate complaints from any source, or upon his or her own initiative, concerning allegations of corruption."
He added that these proposals would go away if New Jersey would sign off on New York's version of the Port Authority reform bill, which - surprise - would give Cuomo the power to appoint both the new CEO and the new chairman.
New Jersey lawmakers are alarmed, and maybe they should be.
Our first impulse is to let Cuomo enjoy his weaselly contrivance. His own attorney general, fellow Democrat Eric Schneiderman, has called the proposed bill "a scheme" and "likely unconstitutional."
Port Authority historian and author Jameson Doig put it best, remarking to Politico that this action is "Cuomo at his worst: Unable to persuade the bi-state Port Authority to do his bidding, he now hopes to strip it of independent action, crippling its ability to carry out its major functions, and turning it into an extension of the governor's office."
But Cuomo, gripped by ambition, insists the scheme is necessary because of "significant corruption and abuse."
That's rich. When Chairman Degnan and the Port Authority board meet next week to perform their fiduciary obligations and sharpen the figures on a revised capital plan, we trust they'll remember that observation from a governor whose administrative legacy is less about infrastructure than bribery, bid-rigging, and hubris.