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Bill creates a smarter course on incentives offerings

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Perhaps it's not so surprising to see the level of discomfort some lawmakers have when it comes to the proposed reorganization of New Jersey's incentives programs.

That's a problem New Jersey set up for itself in two ways — it limited its most lucrative program to nine wilting cities in need of fertilizer, and it started handing outrageous awards to companies as retention bonuses, as opposed to bringing new jobs to the state. You were left with the haves, the have nots and the never gonna get its. The reorganization bill, which would award incentives based on either job creation or capital investment, attempts to resolve this by broadening the territory and changing how money is allocated, to keep single projects — like the awards to Prudential and Panasonic — from absorbing all the money.

There are definite advantages to keeping large-scale development like that promised in Urban Transit Hub to large cities like Newark, Camden and Jersey City, which can take advantage of existing infrastructure in ways that rural suburbs cannot. Wild overbuilding in suburban markets during the 1980s and, to a lesser extent, the last decade proved problematic when projects stood half empty (or half finished) when the economy recoiled. But there are other marketplaces that could put money like this to good use, too, whether they be coastal areas crippled by Hurricane Sandy or transit-oriented suburban markets, like Morristown, that would be a fit for additional mixed-use development. It doesn't make sense from an economic development standpoint to cram those locations into the Grow New Jersey set-aside program.

Programs like this are always going to have their critics, who will argue they are corporate giveaways. That's not entirely without merit, but it also disregards the reality that other states have competitive programs all of their own to get these big taxpayers to locate there. It's important to strike a balance between programs that businesses find attractive, that add jobs and that spur capital investment. The Economic Opportunity Act would do just that.

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