The future of affordable housing in the state has been a long-running focus of legislative negotiations — including throughout Gov. Chris Christie's term — but doesn't appear headed toward a solution soon, according to lobbyists following the issue.
The issue has seen two recent developments: the advancement of a bill allowing towns more time to spend affordable-housing funds and the refusal by the New Jersey Supreme Court to delay a lower-court order to reinstate the Council on Affordable Housing.
One senior lobbyist said the court decision shouldn't put additional pressure on Christie, whose opposition to COAH was clear when he was elected governor in 2009.
While lobbyists expect the Legislature to again take up the issue in the fall, they also aren't expecting Christie to give ground to housing advocates.
One noted that the best time to apply pressure on the governor is when he is looking for votes to pass the budget, but Democratic legislators have higher priorities than housing in negotiations this year, including their effort to raise the state's minimum wage.
The stalemate has left the proposal by Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) to promote the conversion of foreclosed houses into affordable housing in limbo.
With the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee set to advance a bill removing regulatory restrictions on microbreweries and brewpubs, lobbyists were again talking last week about the changing landscape of alcohol regulation in the state.
The debate is occurring less than six months after a law allowing direct shipment of wine was passed over the opposition of distributors and restaurateurs. A similar coalition is opposed to the brewery bill, which allows microbreweries to increase sales directly to consumers, and for brewpubs to increase their production and distribution.
One opponent of the bill, S-641 and A-1277, is the New Jersey Restaurant Association, represented by Dale Florio, of Princeton Public Affairs Group.
Florio said while the bill bars microbrewers from opening restaurants, they could coordinate beer sales with neighboring facilities to find ways around the law. He said this issue arises from challenges to the longstanding system in which producers, distributors and retail outlets were separate.
"When you start to break down that three-tier system of how we sell alcohol, in this particular case, it can become somewhat of a pseudo-restaurant," Florio said.
This could be a challenge to local alcohol licensing laws, as well as to restaurant owners that have paid significant sums for licenses.
Advocates for the law have countered that removing the restrictions would make the state more competitive as a location for brewery investment and expansion.
A bill that would allow parents to deduct their contribution to their children's college savings account is being backed by Franklin Templeton, the investment firm that manages the program.
New Jersey is one of only seven states that doesn't allow parents to deduct the contributions to savings accounts, according to Roger Michaud, a senior vice president at Franklin Templeton. Nine other states don't have income taxes. The bill applies to New Jersey Better Educational Savings Trust, or NJBEST, accounts, the state's program under the federal 529 college plans.
The bill would allow joint filers to deduct up to $10,000 annually in contributions, while single filers could deduct $5,000. Earnings in the 529 accounts aren't subject to federal tax if they are used for higher education.
Michaud said the tax savings would make college more affordable. He added that the measure would encourage more New Jersey families to participate in the program rather than use out-of-state programs.
"There's some poor plans out there, but they may be directed by a financial adviser" to consider them, Michaud said. Franklin Templeton has managed NJBEST since it was started in 2003.
A similar bill was passed by the Legislature last session, but wasn't signed by the governor.
Public Strategies Impact lobbyist Joseph DeSanctis, who worked with Franklin Templeton on the bill, said the bipartisan measure fell victim to time constraints at the end of the session, but is in a better position now that the administration will have more time to review it. The estimated cost of the measure is $6.2 million.
While state officials debate whether the "New Jersey Comeback" touted by Christie is occurring, it has gained at least one adherent — New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Thomas A. Bracken.
Bracken said chamber officials have heard repeatedly from business executives at meetings that they are feeling optimistic about the direction of the state's economy.
"The comeback to me is more than these economic numbers that we're getting," Bracken said. "I think you have to look at both the qualitative and quantitative numbers."
A qualitative factor Bracken points to is Christie's high approval ratings, an indication that residents feel the state is moving in the right direction.
"At the end of the day, optimism will get things done, and there's still considerable optimism out there," Bracken said. "People want a comeback to happen."
Bracken also noted that some recent reports — including a federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that found New Jersey's economy was one of the worst performing in 2011 —already are outdated, and don't reflect what has been going on in the state in recent months.
"We monitor people's optimism, and what we hear is encouraging," Bracken said.