N.J. files brief to block an injunction over the fate of the Waterfront Commission

New Jersey intended to replace the commission with the New Jersey State Police next week. Now those plans are up in the air.

File photo: Container ships are docked at the Port of New York and New Jersey in Elizabeth, N.J., on May 20, 2021. A turf war over who polices the New York region's busy port complex is coming to a head as the state of New Jersey is preparing to withdraw from a bi-state commission formed to fight corruption

File photo: Container ships are docked at the Port of New York and New Jersey in Elizabeth, N.J., on May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

New Jersey’s plans to withdraw from a 70-year-old agreement with the state of New York that regulates the largest port on the East Coast has hit a roadblock.

Monday evening, New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin filed a brief opposing New York’s request for an injunction to stop New Jersey from leaving the Waterfront Commission Compact overseeing the Port of New York and New Jersey.

New Jersey intended to leave the compact next Monday and replace the commission with the New Jersey State Police.

Platkin said the state is prepared to defend itself against the injunction.

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“New Jersey followed the law when it decided to withdraw from the Waterfront Commission. And consistent with our statute, the State Police, the best in the nation, has spent months preparing to undertake oversight at the port, including to protect public safety and safeguard the port,” Platkin said.

Many top officials in New Jersey said the agreement, which began in 1953, is outdated.

They claim the Waterfront Commission has run for many years without accountability and transparency about the use of public funds.

“Our withdrawal is long overdue,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, in a statement Tuesday. “The Compact made sense in 1953.  It makes no sense now.  The Commission has long outlived its usefulness, and my Administration remains committed to extricating New Jersey from the Compact and allowing the New Jersey State Police, one of the nation’s preeminent law enforcement agencies, to bring the oversight of the Port into the 21st century.”

In January 2018, former Gov. Chris Christie signed bipartisan legislation directing the governor to notify the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the State of New York, and U.S. Congress of New Jersey’s intention to withdraw from the compact.

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When the law was enacted, lawmakers said the commission had been “tainted by corruption” and was “exercising powers” it had not been authorized to carry out, according to language in the measure.

The commission was originally created to help ensure that hiring and employment practices at the port were conducted fairly, and to fight crime.

Legislative leaders still support the state’s decision to replace the commission, with top Republicans and Democrats in both houses standing behind the Murphy Administration’s plans to walk away.

“The transition is needed for an industry that supports thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars as a key part of New Jersey’s economy,” said Senate President Sen. Nick Scutari (D-22).

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday granted New York preliminary relief blocking New Jersey’s planned exit from the commission.

In response, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he remained optimistic that when the case is over, New Jersey will be “vindicated.”

“I will not give up the fight to protect New Jersey’s interests, which are poorly served by a commission that operates without transparency and has long outlived its usefulness,” Murphy said in a statement.

The General Assembly’s top Republican official Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-23) echoed Scutari.

“The commission over-regulated business to justify its existence. It cost New Jerseyans too much, made it too difficult to hire new workers, hurt our state’s economic interests and long outlived its purpose,” DiMaio said.

In his statement, Murphy noted that New Jersey has “taken an increasingly prominent role” in overseeing port operations, with “well over 90 percent of the economic activity at the Port now occurring on the New Jersey side.”

According to the New York Daily News, last week New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state’s Attorney General Leticia James sued New Jersey over its intention to leave the compact next week, saying that the commission’s “work is not finished,” and that it’s “continued operation is essential because corruption, racketeering, and unfair employment practices are still found at the port.”

A separate New York Daily News report published this week said that Black and Latino workers were cut off from some of the highest paying longshoremen jobs at the port.

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