Governor Christie and New Jersey Democrats are united in support for an overhaul of the state's business tax incentive programs.
At a gathering of real estate executives, Christie Wednesday said he backed legislation sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, D-Newark, that will revamp and simplify development incentives -- the carrots used to retain and attract companies to the Garden State.
Both bills, which would essentially broaden the qualifications for companies to receive grants from programs such as the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) and Grow New Jersey, could come before Senate and Assembly committees next week. Lesniak is chairman of the Senate Economic Growth Committee.
The legislation would simplify the state's incentive programs, consolidating the five major ones to just two, and would give central and south Jersey a better shot at getting such monies, Coutinho said.
Christie, during a 40-minute address at the NAIOP New Jersey's annual public policy meeting at the Edison Sheraton, outlined what he considered to be his administration's successes, including the creation of 103,000 private-sector jobs since February 2010. He also lauded Karen Franzini, former head of the state Economic Development Authority, for her success reaching out to businesses.
"Our incentive programs have spent literally billions of dollars incentivizing business to stay here, relocate here and grow here," Christie told an audience of about 200.
Christie praised Lesniak and Coutino for working with his administration to "come up with a new Grow New Jersey incentive plan that will be bigger and broader than the current Grow New Jersey program." One of the bills is scheduled for a hearing before Lesniak's committee on Monday.
The governor said he was hopeful "we can get this through the Legislature by the end March, the beginning of April, so we can begin to arm all of you with the tools from the incentive perspective so we can continue the great momentum that we have here in the state."
The pending legislation would simplify the tax incentive and credit programs and continue funding for them, Continho said. As it stands now, EDA funding for programs such as Grow New Jersey and Urban Transit Hub tax is capped at $1.75 billion, and the agency is expected to hit that mark in April or May.
The revamping also would expand the areas where businesses can get incentives beyond urban and heavily populated suburban areas, Coutinho said, making it possible for south Jersey to get such money. That was an issue raised by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-West Deptford, a panelist at the NAIOP symposium
"The problem with the old program is 97 percent of the money went to one place ... all parts of the state have to access those dollars," Sweeney said. "If we're going to put billions of dollars of incentive out everyone's got to get a little piece of it, because the economy is important from the north to the south. I think that we're going to be able to get it done. It's just a matter of working with the administration to position this and get it done."
The final purpose of the incentive overhaul is to shift their focus to job creation, rather than capital investment, Coutinho said.
"This is an upgrade of our entire incentive package," he said.
Christie has previously said that he supports a reorganization of the incentive programs, but never come out and voice specific support for the Lesniak and Coutinho bills. A Christie spokesman said his administration is working with the Democrats on the legislation, a comment that was echoed by another panelist at the NAIOP event, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.
"I'm pleased with the support we got today," Coutinho said. "It's important that both house are sending a message that these incentive programs work and that we need to remain competitive with other states and obviously move this very aggressive package forward."
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