The push to revamp the state's development and business incentives won public support today from Gov. Chris Christie and two top Democratic lawmakers, who pledged quick action on a bill that will move through the Legislature starting next week.
The endorsements from Christie, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald (D-Voorhees) came during the annual public policy forum hosted by NAIOP New Jersey, the development trade group. The measure has broad support, they said, and it could reach the Republican governor's desk as soon as the end of this month or early next month.
For the two South Jersey Democrats, a key to passing the bill is that all parts of the state have the chance to benefit under the new framework. New Jersey's largest incentive, the Urban Transit Hub tax credit, applies to nine cities, but all but 10 percent of the credits awarded have gone to Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken, New Brunswick and Elizabeth.
Sweeney said he "(doesn't) begrudge one area of the state doing better, but if we're going to have programs, all parts of the state have to access those dollars."
"If we're going to put billions of dollars of incentives out, everyone's got to get a little piece of it, because the economies are important from the north to the south," Sweeney said at the event in Edison. "And I think we're going to be able to get it done."
The overhaul would consolidate five incentive programs into two, while expanding eligibility by changing certain criteria. The proposal, which would also replenish the incentive pools, has won broad support from development and business groups like NAIOP.
Greenwald, the Assembly majority leader, said recent discussions "behind the scenes" have focused on creating broader support. He added that Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark), the top sponsor in the lower chamber, "has been very smart about attracting legislative sponsorship from all regions … because what this bill is about is making sure that the opportunity to grow and develop projects exists throughout the state."
"I believe that there's been a tremendous amount of progress made in the last couple of weeks on this bill," Greenwald said. "And while I would hesitate to say, guaranteed, that it would be done in March, it is certainly our effort."
During the event's keynote address, Christie said the bill will be introduced Monday to the Senate Economic Growth Committee, chaired by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). He said he was "hopeful that we can get this through the Legislature by the end of March or the beginning of April, so that we can begin to arm all of you with the tools, from an incentive perspective," to create continued momentum in the state.
The pledges by Sweeney and Greenwald, which came during a panel discussion, were welcomed by NAIOP leaders. Michael Allen Seeve, the association’s president, said he felt that both gave “unqualified support for the tax incentive program, and that’s really important.”
“It wouldn’t be normal for it to be so approved so quickly,” said Seeve, president of Mountain Development Corp., in Woodland Park. “So the fact that they’re willing to push so hard to get something done in March, in an election year … that’s really terrific.”