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State Street: Lesniak wants constraints on EDA's decision making

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Ray Lesniak had previously vowed to put a hold on all incentives legislation coming before his committee.
Ray Lesniak had previously vowed to put a hold on all incentives legislation coming before his committee. - ()

In the midst of verbal sparring with Gov. Chris Christie last week, Sen. Raymond J.
Lesniak said a bill revising state incentive programs should be tied to tighter legal constraints on New Jersey Economic Development Authority decision making.

Lesniak (D-Union) made the remarks in response to a comment by Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) that he planned to introduce a bill in November that could radically revise state incentives.

"It may be a better way to improve the operations of EDA," Lesniak said of the bill, adding that he wanted to "curtail their discretionary power."

Lesniak had said the week before Coutinho announced his incentive timetable that all incentive bills would be on hold until he's satisfied that former Christie appointments counsel Michele Brown's promotion to lead EDA hasn't affected the authority's handling of incentives.

Now, it looks like an incentive bill could move forward, but only if it further hems in the EDA.

Lesniak said an incentive overhaul may be necessary.

"It may be needed, because we do have a hodgepodge" of incentive programs,

Lesniak said, noting that he has sponsored the addition of the several programs in recent years. While he isn't planning to take away control of incentives from the EDA, he's exploring "statutory language that limits discretion and makes the decision-making process more transparent."

Now may not be the best time for Lesniak and Christie to work out an agreement. Lesniak bristled at Christie targeting his Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act for criticism. Christie included the bill as one of several that would add spending as he vowed to block additional spending by Democratic legislators.

"Ironically, there's not a dime of state spending" in the bill, Lesniak said. "All he wants to do is make headlines, and that's sad." A Christie spokesman declined to comment.

N.J. hopes to go back to court on its gift card legislation

As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs what cases it will hear this year, one case it may be mulling over is New Jersey's long-fought gift card escheatment issue.

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff has appealed to highest court in the land over whether the state can take the unused value of, or "escheat," gift cards. While the near-term conflict was resolved by a compromise announced by Christie in May, the appeal is moving forward.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled states that have priority in gift card escheatment are the state where the card owner lives and the state where the card seller is incorporated.

In its appeal of that ruling, the state's attorney used some strong language, including saying "corporate profiteering" doesn't meet the purposes of unclaimed property laws, while the law doesn't mandate profits for "serendipitous corporate holders of unclaimed credit property."

New Jersey Retail Merchants Association President John Holub wasn't pleased with the appeal.

"We are quite disappointed the state continues to pursue this in the courts, but we are confident the Supreme Court will agree with us that the state's case is not worthy of consideration," Holub said.

Treasury spokesman Andrew Pratt declined to comment on pending litigation other than to write in an e-mail: "It was important to appeal, because the state believes the ruling weakens important protections for New Jersey consumers."

Tiny Teterboro would benefit from liquor licensing measure

A bill sponsored by Sen. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) may not include the name "Teterboro" in it, but the airport-hosting municipality would be its chief beneficiary.

The bill, S-1904, would allow up to three liquor consumption licenses, for bars or restaurants, and two liquor retail distribution licenses, for liquor stores, to be issued to a development in a town with less than 1,000 residents in a redevelopment area designated by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

Tiny Teterboro, with its population of just 67, is being eyed by Prologis-owned developer Catellus for a $101 million development that could benefit from the licenses.

Eric Shuffler, of Fox & Shuffler, Catellus' lobbying firm, said the legislation is significant.

"This is an active $200 million redevelopment that's going to create hundreds of jobs and bring significant economic activity to the region on a formerly contaminated site," Shuffler said, adding that the licenses would make the site more attractive to tenants. "Teterboro is in a unique situation, because it is so small that there are effectively no licenses available — and therefore, absent this litigation, it's a significant impediment to redevelopment."

The measure is being opposed by the New Jersey Restaurant Association, which contends that the value of liquor licenses held by nearby association members would be undermined by the measure. Princeton Public Affairs Group is lobbying for the restaurant association.

"They have paid dearly for either the ability to sell alcohol at retail or through a restaurant," said Dale Florio, Princeton Public Affairs Group's founder, of the current license holders.

A flyer advertising the project on the Catellus website said: "As a Smart Growth Project, the development qualifies for many services, including multiple liquor licenses." It's not clear whether the developer was getting ahead of itself on the issue.

Revised marriage bill aimed at offering assist to Atlantic City

For the second time, Democratic legislators are advancing a bill that would allow couples in the state to get married or have a civil union on the same day they apply for their license.

An earlier version of the bill was killed by a pocket veto from Christie at the end of the last legislative session.

The state's casino industry is a driving force behind the legislation, which could ease the way for more destination weddings in Atlantic City.

The bill has undergone a major change that could make it more appealing to the governor: While it previously would have made annulment of marriages and unions easier, the current version dropped any mention of annulments.

Its Assembly sponsors include Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D-Voorhees), while it has bipartisan support in the Senate, where Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Linden) and Gerald Cardinale (R-Cresskill) are sponsoring the bill.

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