Economics politics

Jerry, the Jones Act, and the Fantasy Tunnel

Image by Stefan Keller

For over 30 years, Jerrold Nadler has wanted to build a tunnel: the Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel.  As he enters the twilight of his career, I imagine he views this as the cherry on top of his legacy.  

Jerry has shown he cares about things like immigrants rights and abortion right. These are good things.  But they are expected in our district.  True caring is putting your constituents’ interests first, even when they diverge from your self-interests (and those of your big railway contributors).  The tunnel project makes abundantly clear whose interests Nadler prioritizes.

Jerry wants the rail tunnel so freight will go by rail rather than truck.  This will reduce pollution and highway congestion. Worthy goals — in isolation.  When you start to look closer, however, the case begins to unravel. While not as horrible as Robert Moses’s Lomax, the tunnel would tear up Maspeth Queens.  Opposition from residents caused the Bloomberg administration to drop support.

Then there’s the budget. The tunnel is estimated to cost at least $10 billion. This is $10 billion we didn’t have before Covid.  It is unlikely to magically materialize now.  The project is stuck behind a number of higher priority projects whose financing is far from guaranteed.  Yet over the year, Jerry continues to budget money for tunnel studies.  In 2005, he appropriated $100 million despite the Port Authority neither knowing or asking for the money.  The latest was $70 million in 2017.  Do we really have hundreds of millions to waste on something so speculative? Yet, he continues to push — most recently in the Democratic primary debate in June.

The worst part is there’s a much better solution: repeal the Jones Act.  What’s the Jones Act? It’s a piece of shipping legislation that makes domestic shippers rely on the domestic shipping cartel.  This makes shipping prohibitively expensive. In Europe 40% of cargo goes by ship.  In the US just 2%.  The Jones Act pummels not only the environment, but the economy and jobs, Puerto Rico and Hawaii — all to benefit a small coterie of shippers and unions.  There are few more blatant examples of corporate cronyism. Jerry served on the House Transportation Committee. He knows what the Jones Act is and I have discussed it with him. Repealing the Jones Act is the perfect and very obvious solution to the truck congestion problem.  I’m sure Jerry’s smart enough to realize this, so his failure to suggest it leads me to an unfortunate conclusion: he’s more interested in a tunnel with his name on it than serving the public interest.

As for me, instead of the legacy of a $10 billion vanity project, I‘d be happy with a plaque saying I saved the taxpayer $10 billion. Ok in truth I’d prefer a few more plaques on how I got rid of the Jones Act, etc — but $10 billion is a good place to start.  


10 Fun Jones Act Facts!


Why I’m running against Jerry Nadler

Jerry Nadler is far from the worst congressman ever.  I am in agreement with him on many issues, from immigrants’ rights to abortion rights.

But is he the person for the next 20 years? On issues like Basic Income, he has shown little awareness.  On health care and the environment, he checks boxes like Medicare for All and Green New Deal, but does he understand these policies?  He proposes paying for medicare for all by getting rid of private insurance altogether. No universal healthcare system in the world that does this.  Likewise, the Green New Deal is a hugely complex, expensive endeavor concerned with many knotty problems besides climates.  Climate change is real and imminent.  We need climate change legislation laser-focused on…climate change. maybe it doesn’t matter because he’s an incumbent on box-checking autopilot.

Like any incumbent of over 20 years, Nadler answers to many special interests. Which makes you wonder how much he’ll rock the boat. For instance, he says he wants to change the zoning laws that prevent us from building the housing we need.  But when it comes to building in our district, he defends zoning.  While Jerry has stood up for marijuana legalization, will he champion psychedelics, which researchers are using to treat depression and PTSD?  He claims to support sex work, yet he helped pass SESTA/FOSTA.  This law purports to help prevent abuse and human trafficking.  Sex workers say it does the opposite.  Jerry says…let’s fund a study, in other words, I’m sweeping this under the rug.  Can we expect police reform from Jerry?  He did sponsor a large bill on this.  Unfortunately, it has no chance of passage because Republicans want their big bill.  Result: nothing done. Blaming Republicans is easier than rocking the boat.

The police reform bill brings up another issue.  Both sides release huge bills they know the other won’t countenance, then self-righteously blame the other for the failure. How about releasing smaller bills which you can agree on, then go back to arguing about the rest?  Nowhere has this been more tragic than the unemployment extension.  I agree with Democrats that $600 is preferable to $200.  But $200 is preferable to $0.  Secure the $200, then get back in there and fight for more.

Perhaps the issue which puts a point on it for me is Nadler’s Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal. It starts out with the reasonable proposition that truck congestion on our highways is a problem.  It then proposes a $10 billion rail tunnel (in the unlikely case it gets finished on budget).  Jerry has been proposing this for 20 years. It would tear up neighborhoods and cost us money we don’t have.  It is pure fantasy.  Yet he continues to waste hundreds of millions on engineering studies.

The worst part is there’s a much better solution: repeal the Jones Act, a piece of shipping legislation which makes domestic shippers rely on the domestic shipping cartel.  It also makes shipping prohibitively expensive, which means many items go on much dirtier trucks which cause the congestion Jerry complains about.  In Europe 40% of cargo goes by ship.  In the US, just 2%.  The Jones Act pummels not only the environment, but the economy and jobs, Puerto Rico and Hawaii — all for a small coterie of shippers and unions.  There are few more blatant examples of corporate cronyism.  Yet you will never see Jerry, with his rail and tunnel interests, speak against it.  Next time you consider how much Jerry cares, think about how your interests stack up against his big tunnel vanity project.

The Swamp is Alive and Well

Cronyism made Trump’s Drain the Swamp message resonate in 2016.  Bad news: Trump has made the swamp worse.  Politicians should take this as a wakeup call, but I see little evidence. Whether it’s the Jones Act, or the slapdash way in which PPP was doled out to connected entities instead of small businesses, it’s very obviously business as usual.

Are you fed up?  I’m fed up.  That’s why I’m giving up a year of income on a quixotic campaign to be a voice of reason, not of populism, and say we need a simpler, more open, more responsive government.  No this is not a call to abolish government.  It’s a call to let government do the things it can do well and impartially, and get rid of the crony wheezes and complications which are leading to a deep distrust of our government and social order.  Being a voice of reason means eschewing slogans and partisan attacks.  It means thoughtfully looking for solutions, and considering the counter-arguments.  It takes time and effort and, quite frankly,  it’s a lonely path.  But we need it to make things better.  I hope you will join me.