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EDA goes before Senate Budget Committee

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The New Jersey Economic Development Authority took its turn Wednesday in front of the Senate Budget Committee.

In her opening statement, CEO Michele Brown told the committee about her agency’s work with business incentives, small business assistance, and, lately, Hurricane Sandy recovery. She said they’re eager to begin helping businesses affected by the storm.

Gov. Chris Christie’s spending plan for the first portion of federal recovery money includes $500 million for grants, though the plan is still awaiting final federal approval.

“Our immediate goal is to get grant assistance to businesses affected by the storm as quickly as possible to ensure they’ll have the capital needed to resume or maintain their operations,” she said. “It’s an especially acute need for all the businesses in the tourism district.”

In the early part of the hearing, Budget Chairman Paul A. Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) questioned Brown about the backlog in payouts for the Business Employment Incentive Program, which last year included about 600 applicants and some $672 million in outstanding payments.

Brown said the latter number is now down to about $500 million, and she said the backlog of 2009 applications will soon be paid in full, leaving only 2010, 2011 and 2012 applications.

Sarlo also asked about the status of two high-profile economic development projects, the American Dream – Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, and the struggling Revel casino and resort in Atlantic City.

Brown said Triple Five, the American Dream developer, is planning to come to the agency for about $300 million under the Economic Recovery Grant program as part of an effort to close a funding gap.

As for Revel, Brown noted the state hasn’t yet paid a penny towards the project because the $261 million incentive approved for the casino is in the form of a tax reimbursement, and the casino only opened last year. The casino filed for bankruptcy last month, but Brown expressed hope for a turnaround.

“We’re hopeful that when they come out of bankruptcy, if the bankruptcy trustee approves their new plan, that they will be on sounder fiscal footing than they are now,” she said.

The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from the state comptroller and the Department of Banking and Insurance during afternoon sessions Wednesday.

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