Retailers, state nearing resolution on gift cards
The issue of gift-card escheatment, which reached a boiling point in April, may be on the path to a resolution that leaves all sides satisfied, according to a source familiar with talks surrounding the issue.
The issue — in which the state would assume the value of unused gift cards — became the center of a war of words between retailers and Gov. Chris Christie's administration. Multiple card issuers, including American Express, InComm and Blackhawk Network, said they would leave the state, while Treasury officials all but gestured toward the door.
While a bill is advancing in the Legislature that would end escheatment, the center of the action is occurring in talks between retailers and the administration, according to the source.
"We're getting close," the source said. "There's some meaningful discussions with the governor's office and the administration."
While an agreement is "just not there yet," the conversations have been positive and the dialog is continuing — a far cry from the escalating confrontation of early April. The issue has been unusual in the Christie administration, which has been largely praised in the business community for its responsiveness, including strong praise from retailers.
Both sides confident in permit extension battle
With the opening bell for round 2 in the push to add two years to the state's Permit Extension Act about to ring, both lobbyists for builders and environmentalists are confident they will land a knockout blow.
The last effort to extend the act through December 2014 was stopped in March by a last-minute push by environmentalists. Since then, builders have been reaching out to legislators, and according to lobbyists, those discussions will bear fruit.
"We think the bill, as it stands now, reflects the intent of the 2008 act, and we very much look forward to it being passed in the next month," said Jeff Kolakowski, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Builders Association.
The battle has centered over the bill's treatment of the Highlands. Environmentalists say the measure, unlike a previous extension in 2010, would reopen expired projects in the northwest corner of the state, a position rejected by builders.
Kolakowski said legislators have been listening. "The more they've learned about the situation, the more they understand where we're coming from and how important this initiative is to the economic recovery," he said.
New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said the bill will only move forward if the Highlands provisions are removed. He added that 27 Assembly Democrats opposed the measure. "That won't happen," Tittel said of the bill passing without changes. He said the builders must be "willing to negotiate in good faith" over the Highlands, adding that development would threaten drinking water for millions of North Jersey residents.
Anthony Pizzutillo, a lobbyist for the New Jersey chapter of commercial real estate association NAIOP, said the organization is hopeful that the measure will pass in the next month.
No timetable to get seasonal workers off unemployment
While the state's unemployment insurance task force unanimously endorsed a measure that would exclude seasonal workers from unemployment insurance, don't expect immediate action on the proposal.
Senate Labor Committee Chairman Fred H. Madden Jr. (D-Turnersville) said there are no plans to advance the measure.
The situation for employers with regular turnover is about to become more difficult, with a bill advancing in the Legislature that would shift the UI tax burden toward them.
Assembly Labor Committee Chairman Joseph V. Egan (D-New Brunswick) said he doesn't anticipate seasonal employers being hurt by the change in UI taxes, but said if they are affected, legislators can revisit the issue."I think that's something to take a look at," Egan said.
In its original form, the bill sought to sock high-layoff employers with a $26.8 million increase in UI taxes, but Christie's administration objected to any tax increase, according to sources familiar with the issue. That led to the shift proposed in the current version; the governor still must decide whether to allow an extra tax increase for a subset of employers, even if it is offset with reduced increases for most businesses.
Sweeney picks Turnpike as venue for fight with Sunoco
The familiar Sunoco signs that grace every rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike would be a thing of the past if a bill being sponsored by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney was enacted.
But Statehouse insiders aren't expecting the measure to become law.
The bill, S-1821, would prohibit the Turnpike Authority or South Jersey Transportation Authority from entering into a contract with any gas seller unless its supplier operates a refinery in the state.
Sweeney sees the bill as a way to promote economic development, according to Chris Donnelly, a Sweeney spokesman.
"The Senate president is always trying to help businesses and create jobs here in New Jersey, and that is exactly what this bill will do," Donnelly said.
But a source familiar with the issue suggested that Sweeney pursued the measure due to Sunoco's handling of a former refinery in West Deptford, where the Democrat's legislative office is located. Sweeney recently criticized the West Deptford council for agreeing to settle a tax appeal with Sunoco and El Paso over the now-closed Eagle Point Refinery, which was formerly operated by Sunoco and then El Paso.
Sweeney is upset with both Sunoco and the Republican-led council over the situation, fueling his push for the bill, according to the source.
Another source said the bill's chances in the Assembly didn't appear good, so the measure may never reach Christie's veto pen. Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D-West Deptford) is the Assembly sponsor.