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State Street: Advocates confident N.J. will get incentives reform

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Businesses hoping for incentive reforms were cheered by Ray Lesniak’s apparent change of heart on blocking bills.
Businesses hoping for incentive reforms were cheered by Ray Lesniak’s apparent change of heart on blocking bills. - ()

Incentives advocates are privately expressing they were encouraged by Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) saying he still sees this fall as an opportunity to revise the state's incentive programs.

Lesniak has said that he wants to tie an incentive revision with tighter legislative controls on the EDA's discretion over incentive decisions, as well as increasing the transparency of the process. Lesniak, who has sponsored all of the major incentive bills passed in recent years, hadn't announced the specifics of what he was seeking last week.

While some are skeptical about additional legislative requirements being applied to the EDA, there is a sense of hope that there will be reform this year.

It remains to be seen what would happen if Lesniak maintains a block on incentive bills. Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) could theoretically assign an incentive bill to a different committee than the Senate Economic Growth Committee chaired by Lesniak. Sweeney declined to comment on what he would do if Lesniak did block a bill, but there is a sense among incentive advocates that it will not come to that, and that legislators — including Lesniak — would reach agreement on incentives this year.

Singleton looks to Md. as a model for targeted incentives

Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel) was planning to introduce a bill last week that would allow venture capitalists to buy tax credits that could be used once the startups they invest in are profitable.

The measure, targeting investment in distressed areas, is based on a similar program in Maryland called Invest Maryland.

Under draft legislation which Singleton named the "New Jersey Venture Investment and Employment Program Act," the Economic Development Authority would be able to sell up to a total of $100 million in tax credits. At least 80 percent of the funding would be required to be invested in businesses whose principal operations are in economically distressed New Jersey communities.

Eligible investors must invest at least $250,000, and the investment must be at least 75 percent of the tax credits being purchased. The EDA would be advised on the credits by a board comprised of appointees of the governor and the leaders of each house of the Legislature.

"We're trying to move it forward," Singleton said, adding that he is working with Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) on the bill. Singleton said he is hopeful that this bill will complement Coutinho's plans for an overhaul of incentive programs this fall: "It's my hope that it will augment whatever efforts he'll be doing."

Singleton said he was intrigued in reading about the Maryland bill that a New Jersey-based professor — Julia Sass Rubin, of Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy — had contributed to its contents.

Rubin expressed hope that the program would encourage access to capital in areas that are in need of it.

"There clearly is a lack of venture capital now," Rubin said. "There's always been a lack in low-income communities."

Bracken: Minimum wage hike effort doesn't belong on ballot

If there is one issue likely to unite most of the state business community over the next year, it is opposition to adding minimum wage hikes to the state constitution.

That was demonstrated last week by New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Thomas A. Bracken, who added his voice to those questioning Sweeney's support for the amendment.

"It should never be something that should be a ballot question," Bracken said. "It's a business issue, and it really is not something that is a relevant ballot question. With the voting public, it's nice to get their opinion, but it's not something to vote on."

When the minimum wage increase was debated in the Assembly this summer, advocates frequently used economic arguments in favor of the bill, saying the additional pay for workers would be put back into the economy and generate jobs.

Business advocates have rejected that reasoning.

"It has a tendency to push other salaries above the minimum wage up, and right now, businesses are struggling," Bracken said. "Increases in cost without increasing your revenues is not something that businesses want."

Bracken added that the state is facing many more far-reaching issues that affect the economy.

Association supports unpaid leave for sex assault victims

A leading business advocate said business groups will likely support a move to provide New Jersey residents who are the victims of sexual assaults leave from work.

New Jersey Business & Industry Association Senior Vice President Melanie Willoughby said the association is working with sponsors of the New Jersey Security & Financial Empowerment Act, which would provide up to 20 days of unpaid leave for victims of sexual assaults.

"We feel that the victims need the opportunity for time off" to deal with health and legal issues, Willoughby said.

Willoughby said the NJBIA is working with the sponsors to have the legislation be as close as possible to the requirements under the state's family leave law.

The association is among several employer groups concerned about a separate bill affecting employees. This bill, frequently described in Trenton as the "Facebook bill," would establish a separate cause of action for employees to sue employers over requests for access to social networking sites.

Willoughby said business opposition to the bill is due to their sense that "it was a solution in search of a problem." Providing another route for workers to sue employers is a "big concern" to business advocates, Willoughby said.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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