It’s Time to Dissolve the Bi-State Waterfront Commission

December 15, 2014
By Cory A. Booker and Raymond Lesniak

Our concerns, which are echoed by labor and business leaders alike, are about the relevance, necessity, and cost of the Waterfront Commission. 

The time has come for the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to be dissolved. For more than 60 years, the Waterfront Commission has collected taxes from port businesses, led criminal investigations, and dictated hiring practices at the Port of New York and New Jersey. This bi-state Commission was established in 1953 as a temporary agency at a time when the mob ruled the waterfront and immediate steps were needed to rein in rampant crime and restore order. Decades later, New Jersey’s port industry is still paying millions of dollars in extra taxes each year to fund a redundant agency that was designed for a different era. No other port in America has a Waterfront Commission. Our concerns, which are echoed by labor and business leaders alike, are about the relevance, necessity, and cost of the Waterfront Commission. 

This issue is important because the Port of New York and New Jersey is an incredible hub of economic activity that plays a major role in the regional and national economy. The port provides 143,000 direct jobs and nearly a quarter million indirect jobs. Today more than 80 percent of the cargo transported to and from the port travels through New Jersey. This gateway is responsible for creating $14.5 billion in personal income and more than $20 billion in business income for New Jersey. Both of us have spent years working with labor, industry, and surrounding communities to ensure the port continues to create jobs and grow our state’s economy, and we are committed to ensuring its continued success. 

While initially serving an essential purpose in cracking down on rampant organized criminal activity at the port, the Waterfront Commission today is a duplicative layer of law enforcement. There is no need for a redundant governmental entity that is imposing undue costs on Port businesses. In order to combat criminal activity at the port, there are any number of law enforcement entities that could better perform this work and save port businesses millions of dollars in extra taxes every year including the New Jersey state police, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police, and numerous local police departments.

In addition to its law enforcement function, the Waterfront Commission in recent years has made an effort to secure job opportunities at the port for minorities and for residents from communities near the port. However, in the past, the Waterfront Commission has actually stood in the way of progressive hiring practices. Time and time again the commission eliminated job candidates from neighboring communities based on criminal records for minor nonviolent offenses. These practices often made it harder for minority communities to access jobs. While we recognize improvements in recent years, the Waterfront Commission retains discretion over this process. There is little assurance that under future leadership the commission would not return to the discriminatory practices that were common just a few years ago, and this is another reason why the Commission should be dissolved. It also does not make sense that we would charge an investigatory, bi-state law enforcement entity with responsibility for ensuring equitable access to port jobs. When the Commission is dissolved this work should be reassigned to another, more appropriately equipped, agency for vigorous enforcement.

Our mission is to improve New Jersey’s global competitiveness, protect the economic security of New Jersey families, and ensure low income and minority communities have access to port jobs. While the Waterfront Commission once served an important purpose, it has become a redundant level of bureaucracy that imposes unnecessary taxes on an important job creator in our state. We believe the time has come for this temporary agency to be dissolved.

*** Cory A. Booker (D-NJ) is a U.S. senator and Raymond Lesniak is a Democratic state senator from Union County. This article appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger as a guest column.

December 15, 2014

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