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Christie’s tunnel vision

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday cancelled the largest public transportation project in the country, a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River to Manhattan. It is a very short-sighted move.

The project originally was financed by about $3 billion each from the federal government, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the State of New Jersey. But after learning from his state transportation officials that the project is likely to see an over-run of at least $2.5 billion, and that New Jersey was on the hook for it, Christie, a Republican, decided to withdraw. Federal transportation secretary Ray LaHood rushed to meet with Christie today to salvage the project, and reports say Christie will review LaHood's suggestions.

Christie has made a name for himself as a governor willing to make spending cuts and try to balance the state's budget. He is even rumored as a future Republican candidate for President, especially since his background means he brings some working class cred. Yet nearly everyone agrees that New Jersey needs this project, and that its halting could damage growth. The key thing is to get growth going, and that requires investment - including government investment. Infrastructure projects like this tunnel  are essential for moving forward. The Obama stimulus package included a minority portion towards infrastructure, but it is woefully inadequate for the nation's needs.

I don't often find myself in agreement with Paul Krugman, but I am today regarding his New York Times op-ed on the tunnel. Krugman sees a bigger issue beyond this one project: "Cancelling the tunnel was a blow to national hopes of recovery, part of a pattern of penny-pinching that has played a large role in our continuing economic stagnation."  There is a lack of vision (and this applies to both Republicans and Democrats).  Christie's decision will burnish his reputation as a cost-cutter who is willing to take tough decisions - including standing up to the federal government. But it deserves to brand him as a narrow, vision-less accountant who has no answer for the way forward.

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