Port Authorities

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PORT AUTHORITIES. These forms of special-purpose government are utilized in the United States and in other countries. In the early 2000s special-purpose governments were the fastest growing type of local government in the nation (municipalities were second). Port authorities are tax-free corporations funded by user fees and/or proceeds from tax-free bonds. Their function is typically legally limited to the financing, construction, and operation of facilities and projects involving rivers, lakes, oceans, and other waterways, such as canals, harbors, docks, wharves, and terminals. One hundred fourteen U.S. metropolitan areas had port authorities with varying levels of function and authority in 1987. The oldest port authority in the United States is likely that of Portland, Oregon, established in 1917. The most well-known port authority in the United States is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, established in 1921. It is exceptional because it serves two different states and because the actions of its governing body may be vetoed by the governors of New York and New Jersey. Sometimes port authority activities have been controversial, for instance over the question of whether port authority autonomy fosters growth and development inconsistent with public goals.


Foster, Kathryn A. The Political Economy of Special-Purpose Government. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1997.

Mitchell, Jerry, ed. Public Authorities and Public Policy: The Business of Government. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Timothy M.Roberts