Cities hope to see funding for UEZ revived in budget
Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth are among the cities lobbying for the revival of the Urban Enterprise Zone program, with a goal of increasing financing available for development projects.
Officials in those cities said there are projects on hold that could advance with UEZ financing.
Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) said he hopes the UEZ revival is included in the state budget negotiations between the governor and legislative Democrats.
"I am hopeful that there may be an opportunity to restore some partial funding," said Coutinho, one of five sponsors of a bill, A-828, to increase the amount of UEZ sales tax revenue available to municipalities.
Coutinho said the bill takes into account flaws in the program that were identified by consulting firm Delta Management, which reviewed the program for the state. He chaired an Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee hearing on the program on March 9.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said the program has been very important to his city and others since it was started in the 1980s.
Healy said cities are hoping to restore half of the $90 million in funding that they previously received under the program.
"A half a loaf is better than no loaf," he said, adding that the 614 certified UEZ businesses in Jersey City have generated more than 15,000 full-time jobs.
"It encourages businesses to not only stay in Jersey City, but to come to Jersey City," Healy said, adding that these employees give back to the state through income taxes. "I view this as not a gift, not throwing something down a hole — or a black hole, as they call it — I view it as an investment, and I think it's money wisely invested in not just Jersey City, but in all of our urban centers."
Newark Deputy Mayor Adam Zipkin, director of economic development and housing, said UEZ financing was a key part of building several projects, including the mixed-use Teachers
Village, a new Food Depot Supermarket, the expansion of the Newark Screens movie theater and the conversion of 810 Broad St. into a Hotel Indigo. And he said several other projects are stalled without further UEZ funds, including a supermarket on Springfield Avenue, a warehouse on Frelinghuysen Avenue and the conversion of vacant upper-floor space into residences on Broad and Market streets.
The program also received backing from smaller towns, including Wildwood, where UEZ funds have paid to replace portions of the boardwalk, and Hillside, where the township has used UEZ financing to attract businesses.
Amazon mulls options while bills await Senate action
The ball is now in Amazon.com's court, as the online retail giant considers its options following the passage of two bills in the Assembly that affect Internet sales taxes.
The bills would expand the range of online retailers that must collect sales taxes on sales to customers in the state, as well as allowing those that invest and bring jobs to the state to delay such collection until July 2013.
This provision would stand to benefit Amazon, which has discussed adding two distribution centers and 1,500 jobs in the state.
State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) said the Senate is prepared to take further action regarding the bills, but that Amazon hasn't made its intentions clear. He said the company was concerned with labor-related provisions in the bill, which requires companies that benefit from the tax collection delay to enter project labor agreements with unions.
Amazon has indicated that its needs a facility in the Northeast, but hasn't settled on whether to build it in New Jersey.
Lesniak said Amazon has one to two months to decide what its plans are, adding that the Senate will be ready to act on the bills in April.
Merger provides challenges for N.J. business advocates
The proposed merger of Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden has been one of the most prominent stories in the state this year, but it has put some leading business advocates in an awkward position.
The merger proposal has gained some public business backing, most notably from Sol J. Barer, the Celgene founder who led the committee that recommended the merger to Gov. Chris Christie.
It also was supported by local businesses near Rowan, who are enthusiastic about the university's proposed elevation to being a full research university.
However, the region's largest business organization, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, has been in a difficult position regarding the merger. The organization has close ties to both institutions, with officials from both schools' business schools serving on its board of directors. Rutgers-Camden students, faculty and staff members have taken a largely negative view of the merger, which Christie has repeatedly said will happen.
When reached for an article on the merger earlier in March, an official with the chamber declined to comment on it.
N.J. lobbyist looks for win on the slopes in national game
Princeton Public Affairs Group lobbyist David Smith, a principal with the firm, is gaining national recognition for his prowess as a snowboarder.
Smith, who started snowboarding three years ago, is headed to the USA Snowboard Association national championships the first week of April. The event will be in Copper Mountain, Colo.
Smith has quickly soared into the national rankings in the sport, reaching a No. 12 ranking in the association's Legends Division, for ages 40 to 49.
He gained an invitation to the 15-person event by winning the Catskill Mountain Season Series.
Smith's sons Shane, 12, and Tyler, 9, also are nationally ranked and received invitations to the national championships. The event is the largest snowboard competition in the country.