The first salvo in a pitched lobbying battle over how to shape New Jersey's health care exchange was fired Feb. 6, as Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Delran) introduced a bill establishing an exchange.
Insurers and business groups have lined up in opposition to the bill, while some provider groups, including the Medical Society of New Jersey, favor the measure.
MBI-GluckShaw lobbyist Timothy J. Martin, who has the Medical Society as a client, noted the state will either establish an exchange or see the Barack Obama administration do it instead, under provisions of the 2010 federal health care law.
“It’s probably going to be one of the hottest health policy topics for the next 12 to 16 months, and the real fight is going to be whether anyone can participate in the exchange,” or whether the exchange will engage in “active purchasing,” determining what it will cover, Martin said.
The New Jersey Business & Industry Association has staked out a position in favor of the state offering an exchange, but saying it should be only be a clearinghouse for private plans — a less-active role than under Conaway’s proposal.
One lobbyist said it was telling that the Chris Christie administration didn’t send officials from either the Department of Health and Senior Services or Department of Banking and Insurance to the Assembly hearing, subtly signaling they may not be on board with the existing legislation.
Another lobbyist said it may be tough for the administration to give up an opportunity to have influence over the system, though many Republicans want states to have nothing to do with “Obamacare.”
A veteran Trenton lobbyist described the administration’s position as one of hoping the federal law will no longer be in place when 2014 rolls around. “I think they hope (Mitt) Romney wins,” the source said.
The governor’s press office referred questions to DOBI, where spokesman Marshall McKnight said the department has a policy of not commenting on pending legislation.
Amazon throws wrinkle in fight over online sales tax
While New Jersey brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting to apply sales taxes to online sellers, retail giant Amazon.com is reportedly attempting a solution it has applied in other states: delaying a tax increase in exchange for bringing investment and jobs to the state.
Sens. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), and Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Delran), have introduced S-1305/A-2003, which would apply the tax to Amazon and other retailers with affiliates in the state.
Retail observers said Amazon’s decision to approach New Jersey about locating a distribution center here is part of a pattern it has followed in other states.
If the bill becomes law, while Amazon may still succeed in pushing back collection of the tax, smaller affiliates may not be so fortunate, according to Matthew Cheng, president and founder of West New York-based eCoupons Inc., a company that has coupons on its site for products sold on Amazon.com.
Cheng, a self-described Democrat, said his company would be forced to move out of the state if it had to collect sales taxes, adding that he may look to hire a Trenton lobbyist regarding the bill.
“I think it’s ironic that I might be fighting against Democrats, and I might be saved by a Republican governor,” he said.
John Holub, New Jersey Retail Merchants Association president, said he’s working with the bill’s sponsors so that companies like Cheng’s would not be affected.
Undeterred, tech startups again push for tax credits
Gov. Chris Christie shot down a tax credit for angel investors in startup tech and biotech companies at the end of the last session — one part of a package of Democratic bills that the governor said should instead be considered as part of the annual budget process.
The angel investor bill, reintroduced as S-581/A-1084, may have a second chance in this year’s budget process. It was advanced by the Senate Economic Growth Committee on Feb. 6, with revisions suggested by New Jersey Business Incubator Network President Suzanne Zammit.
Zammit said it’s important for the bill to reward technology commercialization, as it would under the revisions. “Angel investors won’t look at companies unless they have those elements in place,” she said of commercialization.
Princeton Public Affairs Group lobbyist Nicole D. Cole said the bill has the potential to be considered as a budget resolution. “We’re trying to not have this be a partisan bill,” she said of the legislative effort. “We want this to be a jobs bill.”
Business court may get traction in new session
Assemblyman David C. Russo (R-Midland Park) has been proposing a court to specialize in complex business cases like corporate dissolutions since the 1990s without success, but the proposal is gaining a glimmer of hope. Assembly Judiciary Chairman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Edison) said he plans to push for the measure in the new session, after seeing time run out for it in the last session.
The proposal has gained many allies — from attorneys who want to work with judges who have built a business expertise, to business advocates like Christine Stearns, of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. It also has bipartisan sponsors, including Assemblyman Upendra J. Chivukula (D-Somerset), who has introduced the bill again with Russo.
But it has an implacable foe in the Administrative Office of the Courts, which sees the proposal as an expensive and unnecessary idea at a time when the courts face a heavy workload.
Barnes would like the state to have one business court judge in each vicinage, drawn from the existing ranks of judges who have some business experience. Nearly every other Northeastern state has adopted a similar approach.
“We hope that New Jersey will follow many of our neighboring states,” Stearns told the Judiciary Committee in January.