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State Street: Advocates worry Sandy has sunk plan to cut tax

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Chris Christie has distanced himself from his earlier pledge to cut the income tax by 10 percent.
Chris Christie has distanced himself from his earlier pledge to cut the income tax by 10 percent. - ()

Gov. Chris Christie's plans for an income tax cut took a back seat after Sandy came ashore, but the issue briefly made its way back into the newspapers last week after the state released its October revenue numbers.

The Treasury Department reported revenue up 6.8 percent in October versus the previous year, though overall revenue this year is still shy of the goals set forth in the governor's budget.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber still supports a tax cut, but he said the issue is wrapped up in a number of unanswered questions.

"There has to be a discussion as to what the costs (of Sandy) are going to be and how that's all going to be handled within the framework of the budget," Egenton said.

Last week, Christie issued Sandy cost estimates totaling $36.8 billion, but it's still not known how much of the actual total the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse. The governor said he's hoping FEMA will cover at least 90 percent, a rate he said is in line with similar disasters.

There's little question the governor still wants a tax cut, but there's little optimism in the Statehouse. One Trenton lobbyist said the tax cut is probably dead unless revenue actually hits Christie's targets.

"I just think if no one's making any money and the revenue's not coming in, it's going to be pretty hard to give that tax cut," the source said.

Another lobbyist suggested the administration's focus is likely to stay on rebuilding the Jersey Shore.

"However, I wouldn't rule out specific tax credits for shore economic development, property tax credits to offset clean up costs, et cetera," the source said. "Given the significant economic challenges that lie ahead, any tax relief will most likely be targeted."

Christie again turns to Gravino to serve as campaign treasurer

The most eagerly awaited document in Trenton came last week when Christie filed paperwork with the Election Law Enforcement Commission announcing his intention to run for re-election next year. While Christie's name got all the attention, the name at the bottom of the form — Ron Gravino — also is notable.

"Ron Gravino is the perennial go-to campaign finance guy," said Michael Turner, president of Burton Trent Public Affairs.

Gravino also served as treasurer for Christie's first gubernatorial campaign, as well as a host of other GOP campaigns, including Joe Kyrillos' recent U.S. Senate bid and Tom Kean Jr.'s U.S. Senate run in 2006. He also served as treasurer for the group Reform Jersey Now, formed in 2010 to advocate for Christie agenda items like the property tax cap.

A former state GOP chair, Tom Wilson, said Gravino has a solid reputation as a detail-oriented campaign official.

"Compliance is king, and when you have a candidate like the governor, who comes (from) a law and order background, compliance becomes that much more important," he said.

Gravino's day job is vice president of finance and human resources at Invidi Technologies Corp., in Princeton. He's also vice chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. He was nominated to that post last year by Christie, and was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a narrow 7-5 vote.

Hoping state-level lawmakers create winds of change in D.C.

A press conference held by Environment New Jersey Nov. 28 gave Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) the opportunity to chastise the Board of Public Utilities on its failure to release regulations for the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act of 2010, but the event's larger legislative purpose was to call on federal lawmakers to extend two tax credits that benefit the wind energy industry.

Why employ state lawmakers to make the case for federal congressional action? Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, said the Trenton event was just part of a larger national campaign, which was accompanied by a new report touting the benefits of wind energy.

"We're releasing this report in 20 or 25 states across the country today, including in D.C.," Elliott said. "So it's both about telling the story to

our state congressmen so that when they go to D.C. they do the right thing, but then you're also just across the country creating a kind of groundswell for wind before Congress acts at the end of the year."

In lobbying for extensions of the credits, Elliott and others are forced to fight for attention amid headline-grabbing events like the Sandy recovery and tense negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff. Elliott believes the general public is on his side; the main problem, he said, has been the fossil fuel lobby.

"We're up against some pretty stiff opposition, and it's making this a lot harder than it otherwise would be," he said.

Solar advocates to Trenton: Don't rest on your laurels

As wind energy advocates waited for legislative action, the state's solar industry was celebrating its legislative success. Last week, the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association gave out its inaugural Chapin, Fuller, Pearson Medal, named for three Bell Labs scientists who in 1954 created the first solar cell.

The winners of the award shouldn't come as a surprise to industry watchers. Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset) and Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) chair the energy committees in their respective houses, and both helped push through the so-called "solar rescue" legislation earlier this year that is credited with helping to stabilize the state's choppy solar market.

"In the New Jersey Legislature, they've been the ones who have sponsored and passed solar legislation," said Lyle Rawlings, MSEIA's vice president. "They're both very dedicated to it."

But lest the two legislators rest on their laurels, Rawlings said the industry still needs more help from the Statehouse. He said he wants lawmakers to pass more long-term structural fixes to the solar market in 2013.

"We got great legislation passed in July," Rawlings said. "That was kind of an emergency measure to save the solar market, but it was really more of a patch than a permanent solution — and now, we want to see a permanent solution to stabilize this market."

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