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Red tape review 'not as flashy' as in early days, but still key to business

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Though the excitement over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno's Red Tape Review Commission has calmed down, leaders of the state's business groups believe the commission's efforts are still going strong, as they continue to spot improvements in New Jersey's regulatory environment.

"The commission really brought common sense back to the regulatory process, and it's good to have an outside set of eyes continually looking at regulation," said David Brogan, first vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

"There's the practical benefit to it and the perceptual benefit, and both are very good for business growth. It's not as flashy as it was when it first started, but it's still very important."

Elizabeth Mackay, director of small business advocacy for the Business Action Center, said many state agencies have made rule changes, and several pieces of legislation have been passed based on concerns brought up by business leaders at the commission's hearings, which are held three times a year.

"At one of our first hearings, there was a veterinary hospital that hired a top veterinary dentist from (the University of Pennsylvania), and with the way the rules had been set up, he could only get approval to come into New Jersey through a state veterinary board meeting. The board wasn't going to meet for another month, and this doctor already had patients on his schedule before that," Mackay said. "We thought it was absurd it was easier to become a licensed vet as a recent graduate in New Jersey than if you had years of experience as a vet in Pennsylvania or New York. It was that example that got all these rule changes started."

While Mackay said the commission's efforts have made it easier for certain professions to do business in New Jersey, she noted the group's greatest achievement is improving transparency in state departments, which has streamlined heavily regulated processes like licensing and permitting.

Mackay said the commission's current focus is on procurement practices, since "in this economic environment, everyone wants the government to be their customer."

"There are 21 different procurement laws in New Jersey, and this is extremely confusing for vendors. It's the next complaint we get after, 'Taxes are too high' " Mackay said. "If there's greater uniformity with displaying procurement opportunities and creating a centralized document bank for bids online, then there's less room for companies to make fatal mistakes and less time spent filing the same basic information over and over again."

Commission member John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, said he hopes the commission's efforts at the state level will be picked up at the county and local levels, where his business group's members still frequently run into red tape.

"This is a very high-cost state in which to do business, and a big part of that cost is complying with regulations. It sometimes makes people take a second look," Galandak said. "But with public hearings and bipartisan legislative action, this commission has an immediate positive impact on economic development — and that's what's most encouraging."

While Brogan said New Jersey is "still the most highly regulated state in the nation," he noted the commission's efforts have provided flexibility and "a window of opportunity" for businesses to navigate through the process.

"Certain things like the Permit Extension Act — which is sitting on the governor's desk right now — are important because when you go through a permitting process, it takes a long time and costs a lot of money, and to have that stop short doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Brogan said. "Any way we can make the process easier and incentivize economic development is good. Having a group doing that really sends a positive message to businesses."

Mackay said the Red Tape Review Commission's next public hearing will be held Oct. 9 at the County College of Morris. She encouraged members of the business community to e-mail concerns before the meeting to redtape.review@sos.state.nj.us.

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