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Jack Tomasello, vice president and co-owner of Tomasello Winery, which already has made its products available to out-of-state buyers online.
Jack Tomasello, vice president and co-owner of Tomasello Winery, which already has made its products available to out-of-state buyers online.

Lobbyist: Direct-ship bill a ‘catalyst' for liquor reform

When Steven Some receives a shipment of Tomasello Winery's sauvignon franc directly to his house early this week, it will be a particularly sweet delivery.

As president of UnCorkNJ, Some served as the lead lobbyist in a three-year effort to legalize direct shipment, which became effective May 1. He said it was one of the most challenging bills of his career, as he faced opposition from liquor wholesalers and retailers — an industry that hadn't lost in the Legislature since the days of Prohibition.

"It is my firm belief that this was a catalyst that would knock open the doors to reform," Some said. He expects consumers and businesses to continue to push for further reform in the industry.

Some, president of Capital Public Affairs, credited Gov. Chris Christie for signing the bill into law, adding that Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney was indispensable in his support. Sweeney made the bill a top priority, surprising some in Trenton's lobbying community.

"He really demonstrated to New Jersey's wine industry that they have a strong supporter in him," Some said.

Tomasello Winery, in Hammonton, was among the first to start shipping, launching a website that makes its wares available to out-of-state purchasers.

Tom Cosentino, spokesman for the New Jersey Wine Growers Association, said "it's going to be a slow rollout," for out-of-state shipments, since New Jersey growers must decide which states they will seek licenses in.

"You have 38 states to choose from," Cosentino said, referring to the states where direct shipment is legal. The states that Tomasello is shipping to include New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida and Colorado, Cosentino said.

Some said he looked forward to ordering from California and other West Coast wineries that seek licenses to ship to New Jersey.

Assemblyman pushes for economic development

Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) is planning to press for two economic development proposals in the coming weeks, as the Legislature returns from its budget break.

Coutinho wants to increase the incentives available through the Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant program and make revisions to the Urban Enterprise Zone program.

The ERG increase, which would target vacant properties — including office buildings, former hospitals and strip malls — has received a positive response from Gov. Chris Christie's administration, according to Coutinho.

But the UEZ effort may face longer odds, with Christie earmarking all UEZ sales tax receipts for the state budget. However, Coutinho said he would like to see a UEZ revision included in budget negotiations.

"Whether or not the funding of the UEZs goes forward, it will all be depending on the budget deal," Coutinho said. "It's not a priority of theirs, but I don't think it will be a deal killer, if that's the direction it goes."

The Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee, which Coutinho chairs, held a hearing earlier this year in which city officials praised the benefits of the UEZ program.

A senior business lobbyist predicted Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney would be the key Democratic player in budget talks, and that Coutinho and other Assembly members will need senators to work with them to include their priorities in the negotiations.

Lonegan implores business groups to fight housing bill

Conservative activist Steve Lonegan said members of his organization will be reaching out to business groups to try to get them to reverse their position on a bill turning foreclosed properties into affordable housing.

Lonegan, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said it's "ridiculous" that trade associations supported the Sen. Raymond Lesniak-sponsored New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act.

"The market's got to flush out naturally — it's the only way this market will ever reach stability and begin to improve," Lonegan said. He said allowing banks to sell foreclosures privately would "provide affordable housing through a natural market mechanism."

The state associations for banks, homebuilders and real estate agents have endorsed the bill, which also is backed by municipalities and housing advocates.

Lonegan also has criticized the bill for promoting housing for ex-convicts and drug addicts. While Lesniak (D-Union) said there's a "special place in hell" for Lonegan for linking affordable housing to these groups, Lonegan said the senator wrongly interpreted him. He said he was only referring to the bill's provisions for these groups, and wasn't linking low-income residents to them.

County college leader fills in as consortium head resigns

The New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development is looking for a new leader.

Its former executive director, Robert Bowman, has resigned from the organization, and Peter B. Contini, Salem Community College's president emeritus, has been named interim executive director.

Contini started in the position on April 12 and will work on its current projects. These include basic skills-training courses sponsored by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and customized training offered through BioNJ.

"I believe in the work that has been done, and I see more opportunity in the future," Contini said.

The consortium board, chaired by Mercer County Community College President Patricia Donahue, is planning to conduct a search for the next executive director. Contini has agreed to fill the position for six months and will be providing feedback on the position, he said.

"They wanted to take a look at what the future might be" for the organization, Contini said. The 19 community colleges formed the organization in 2003.

Bowman left to pursue other opportunities, and has agreed to serve as a consultant during the transition, Contini said.

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