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State Street: Incentives could drive Subaru to Camden site

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Albert Coutinho's incentives reorganization bill was supposed to get a budget committee vote last week, but it was pulled at the last minute.
Albert Coutinho's incentives reorganization bill was supposed to get a budget committee vote last week, but it was pulled at the last minute. - (AARON HOUSTON)

The Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 is one step closer to becoming law, but it's still unclear whether that will happen in April or May.

Last week, the Assembly Budget Committee was slated to approve Assemblyman Albert Coutinho's (D-Newark) bill for a vote in the full Assembly, but it was pulled at the last minute. The Senate budget committee has yet to address Sen. Raymond Lesniak's (D-Union) version of the bill, a necessary step before it can progress to a vote by the full chamber.

Meanwhile, State Street has learned of one South Jersey company that could be swayed to move to Camden if the legislation is passed.

Subaru of America has its U.S. headquarters in Cherry Hill, but the company has outgrown that facility and is considering its options — either relocating within the region, or expanding the current headquarters.

Sources tell State Street the company would consider relocating to Camden if the bill passes, since the bill gives higher tax credits to "mega projects" in distressed municipalities. The bill's "mega project" definition includes projects in Urban Transit Hub zones involving a $50 million investment and the creation or retention of 250 jobs.

Last week, State Street reported that Lockheed Martin is quietly urging quick passage of the bill in order to help it win a new government contract, which could result in more South Jersey jobs, possibly in Camden. Lockheed Martin's timetable is believed to be more urgent, since it's subject to a public bidding schedule.

Michael McHale, a Subaru spokesman, wouldn't comment on what specific locations the company is considering, except to say that it's looking at proposals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

McHale said about 500 employees would be affected by any move. He said Subaru and its consultants are working on their own timetable, independent of the timing of the passage of Coutinho and Lesniak's legislation.

"However, our economics will likely be impacted by that legislation and we will evaluate that as part of our process," he said.

Supporters hope liquor license
reform bill has shot at passing

The battle over liquor licenses is likely to heat up again in the coming months.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-West Deptford) is proposing a bill that would create additional liquor licenses for redevelopment projects in smart-growth areas that significantly add to the municipality's tax rolls.

The legislation expands upon the idea behind A-3131, which was passed by the state Senate in October, and is still awaiting a vote by the full Assembly.

New Jersey's liquor license system is population-based, and awarded on a town-by-town basis. That's made licenses soar in value in some communities, and made it nearly impossible for developers to obtain licenses in a cost-effective manner.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a law meant to fix the problem, by allowing a limited number of new licenses to be issued, but the law was handcuffed by a number of amendments, including a requirement that projects increase the entire municipality's ratable base by 400 percent, and a stipulation setting the price tag for the new licenses at 250 percent of the average selling price of the three most recent liquor licenses sold in the municipality.

A-3131, known as the "Teterboro Legislation" would allow towns with populations of less than 1,000 to obtain new licenses in certain situations, but the bill is expected to have a limited scope — basically, Teterboro — due to the population limit.

Burzichelli's new bill takes some aspects of the Teterboro legislation and expands it to cover smart growth areas as defined in the Permit Extension Act of 2012.

Ted Zangari, North American chair of government relations for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said the new law would allow developers to more easily attract top restaurants, and thus demand rents high enough to support new development.

"You can't get the high rents you need to make the numbers work on your construction pro forma unless the restaurant tenant can obtain a liquor license," said Zangari, an attorney with Sills, Cummis & Gross P.C.

The new legislation would only require a project to double the tax assessment of the improved area, rather than quadruple the entire town's ratable base. It also sets the price for new licenses at 50 percent of the average selling price of all licenses in the town within the past decade. Importantly, the bill would give developers the right to hold licenses in between restaurant tenants, which is currently prohibited.

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, said she doesn't mind having a conversation about overhauling the state's liquor license system. But she's tired of piecemeal solutions.

"Basically they're legislating district by district," she said. "It's not really a smart way of doing it."

Halvorsen said new licenses hurt the restaurants that dished out thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of dollars to get their license in the first place. "Every time something like this comes along, it does devalue their license," she said.

Zangari said he would like to overhaul the system, but said that's probably not feasible right now, in part because it likely would require compensating current license-holders for the loss in the value of their licenses. But he said some change is desperately needed, because the current system hurts the economy.

"At a bare minimum, it's one of the remaining significant pieces of outdated red tape that must be eliminated to solidify our state's new business-friendly environment," he said.

For ELEC, preparing for a
debate with no candidates

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission will meet Tuesday to pick a debate sponsor for the gubernatorial primary election. There's just one problem.

"For the first time ever, there are no sponsor applicants," said Ronald DeFilippis, ELEC's chair, in an agency newsletter.

Candidates who take public funds are required to participate in ELEC primary debates, but incumbent Gov. Chris Christie has chosen against taking public funds. Democratic challenger Barbara Buono is taking public funds, but she's the only candidate to qualify to do so. Thus, she's got no primary opponent to debate.

To qualify, candidates seeking public funds had to raise and spend $380,000 by April 1. Buono reached that goal in February.

Christie drew one primary opponent and Buono drew four, but none of the five longshots met the April 1 deadline.

Despite that, ELEC still plans to meet to discuss a contingency plan. DeFilippis said the commission "will announce plans for a hurried process for recruiting and selecting a sponsor if, in the unlikely chance, a candidate qualified for public funds."

Correction: The print version of this story incorrectly reported the Assembly budget committee had released its version of the Economic Opportunity Act. It has been corrected above.

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