"There's too much at stake in tolls and influence-peddling not to get this fixed," Rafferty said.
Any change to the DRPA compact requires approval by both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures, the governors, Congress, and the president.
That last happened in 1992, when the DRPA's original 1951 compact was amended to permit economic-development spending and to extend the agency's area of responsibility to Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties.
Since then, the DRPA has appropriated more than $386 million for such development projects as Lincoln Financial Field, the Kimmel Center, the National Constitution Center, a soccer stadium complex on the Chester waterfront, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and the President's House near Independence Hall.
The economic development powers should be taken away from the agency, Rafferty said. The agency should be brought under the oversight of the two legislatures, and the governors' appointees to the DRPA board should be reviewed by each state's Senate.
Under fire from Gov. Christie and several Pennsylvania members of the DRPA board, the chairman of the DRPA on Wednesday proposed sweeping changes to make the agency more open and responsive.
Chairman John Estey said Thursday that the 16 proposed changes would be reviewed by Christie and Gov. Rendell, and voted on by the DRPA board at the Aug. 18 meeting. Before that vote, he said, the DRPA will hold a hearing to give area residents an opportunity to address the proposed changes.
In a letter to Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, a DRPA board member who had asked for an earlier board meeting to make changes, Estey said: "Given the need to provide sufficient time for the completion of this initial review, as well as the obligation to provide fair public notice in the scheduling of a formal board meeting, I believe that the scheduled Aug. 18 meeting realistically provides the best opportunity to move forward with the consideration of these reforms."
Estey also jabbed Wagner for his interest in change: "We have served together on the DRPA board since 2005, and you or your representative . . . have attended over 40 Pennsylvania caucus and board meetings during that time, at which staff has been available to respond to any questions. I am pleased to see that based on your five years of experience, you have now concluded that the DRPA is in need of reform."
Wagner responded Thursday that "John doesn't have a very good memory. For years, I or my representative have been voting against the economic development projects that John has been a strong advocate of."
The $386 million spent on economic development projects in the last decade represents nearly a third of the agency's debt, Wagner said.
"We have people who are struggling financially who are paying tolls and PATCO fares that are higher than they need to be because of that economic development spending," Wagner said.
Wagner said, "If we don't see change, I will be asking for change in the board leadership."
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania board member John Dougherty, a Philadelphia labor and ward leader, called for the replacement of Estey as chairman and Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash as vice chairman, and urged that chief executive John Matheussen be removed.
In the latest chapter of the DRPA saga, the agency's dismissed corporate secretary, who is still drawing his salary, asked for his job back.
In an e-mail to board members Thursday, John Lawless wrote, "I am respectfully requesting that you take immediate action and direct Mr. Matheussen to allow me to return to DRPA and resume my daily work activities."
Lawless, a former Republican-turned-Democratic Pennsylvania state legislator from Montgomery County and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002, was escorted from his DRPA office by security officials April 23, but continues to collect his $123,806 annual salary.
DRPA officials have declined to discuss the reasons for Lawless' removal, and Lawless has referred questions to his attorney, who has not responded to requests for comment.
Lawless was the DRPA official who in 2008 gave a free E-ZPass transponder to DRPA public safety chief Michael Joyce for his daughter to use to attend school in the Philadelphia suburbs.
The revelation last month of Joyce's use of the free E-ZPass for his daughter triggered much of the criticism of the agency. Joyce initially was disciplined by being required to reimburse the DRPA $600 and forfeit three days' pay. As the furor grew last week, Joyce, a Democratic lawyer in Cherry Hill, resigned from the agency.
Also Thursday, Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato sidestepped a question about whether he would replace Estey, a longtime friend, as DRPA chairman if he were elected governor in November.
Estey is one of the leading figures in Onorato's campaign for governor. The men have known each other since law school at the University of Pittsburgh.
Asked if he would replace Estey, Onorato said: "It's not about individuals right now. . . . I am not elected now. I am not going to talk about personnel.
"I would say I would be bringing in a lot of new people into government. I think it's healthy," he said.
Proposed DRPA reforms should be instituted as soon as possible, Onorato said.
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer Tom Infield contributed to this article.