New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Credit: AP

Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, was executive director of the Port Authority from 1977 to 1985.

Reacting strictly as a drama critic, I find New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's performance on the proposed Port Authority toll hikes . . . well, pretty amateur.

Apparently, he was shocked and appalled when he found out the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was proposing big increases for its Hudson River crossing tolls and PATH train fares.

I used to run the Port Authority, folks. Let me tell you how it works.

First, the governors of both New York and New Jersey appoint the authority's executive director and its board of commissioners, six from each state. So the team proposing the increases includes people Christie appointed or confirmed in office and with whom he talks regularly.

Second, no toll or PATH fare increase can take effect without the approval of both governors. This simple reality means that the Port Authority never proposes an increase without a) first reaching agreement with the governors on how much the increases will be and what the proceeds will be used for, and b) working out who will say what and whether there is to be a "rollback" by the governors of the P.A.'s initial proposal. In this case, the opening ask is pretty darn big -- hikes as much as 50 percent -- so I doubt it was intended as the final outcome.

Third, the issue of toll and PATH-fare increases is more sensitive in New Jersey than it is in New York, so the New Jersey governor always plays a much more central role on them than the New York governor. That's why we heard a dutiful criticism from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about the plan, but a tirade from Gov. Christie.

So when I watch Christie strut around in a fit of anger as if he is surprised and outraged by what the authority is proposing, I know I'm watching theater. And based on the present performance, I'm not sure Christie will get much further than summer stock.

This is the same Gov. Christie who conveniently got the Port Authority to allocate $1.8 billion to New Jersey roads the state and its taxpayers would otherwise have had to repair. Sounds like a pretty close relationship to me.

What's really going on here?

The Port Authority is a bi-state public agency required to live within its revenues: tolls and fares, landing fees at the airports, and rents from commercial tenants at its facilities. It's a huge engine of investment for the region, stimulating more growth and jobs over the long haul than any other public agency in the metropolitan area. The tolls on the river crossings and fares for PATH hit New Jersey commuters in the pocketbook, and the issue is as sensitive there as the subway fare is in New York City or the LIRR fares are on Long Island.

But if the revenues don't go up from time to time, you're left with two bad choices: Either the governments must provide subsidies, or the authority cannot maintain its facilities, and they start deteriorating until they become dangerous. For nearly a century the Port Authority has run its facilities professionally and maintained them in first-class condition. And the P.A. receives no subsidies from the two governments that created it.

Should the two governors review carefully what the Port Authority is proposing on the revenue front and make sure the proceeds will be used effectively? Yes.

Do we need a five-act opera with Valkyries flying around, with broadswords and spiked helmets, screaming at each other? I don't think so.

We've got a nation that needs to go into fiscal rehab and two states that are not in great financial health. The Port Authority is in good shape -- that's why it can invest and create economic growth and jobs.

Let the P.A. raise the tolls to reasonable levels and get on with its investments. We've got bigger fish to fry, and real financial emergencies to address.