Assemblyman Albert Coutinho's (D-Newark) closely watched Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 cleared the Assembly Budget Committee Thursday.
The legislation – A-3680 – was taken up following a day of hearings on Gov. Chris Christie's proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
The bill, and a similar one in the state Senate, would revamp the state's business incentives and consolidate the five existing programs into two – Grow New Jersey and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union).
"Our tax incentives have been invaluable to our state's economic development planning," Coutinho said, "but - with five programs with varying goals - we clearly need to streamline these programs and make it easier for businesses to understand and take advantage of them."
Coutinho has been working on his bill for months, but its introduction was delayed by Hurricane Sandy, and lawmakers were unable to move it through committee prior to this month's budget break.
David Brogan, first vice president at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the incentives overhaul would send a positive message to the business community.
"We're in a constant fight for jobs," he said. "It's not just local. We compete state to state. We compete regionally. We compete globally for these jobs. We as a state, because we're a high-tax state, need to have incentives as part of the tools that we can use to attract businesses to the state."
Commenting on the length of time it has taken for the legislation to move this far, Brogan said while businesses would like to see the legislation enacted as soon as possible, the bill is also highly technical and needs to be done right.
"When you're talking about revamping major programs like this, it does take a lot of effort, energy and scrutiny," he said. "And I think the sponsors in both houses are doing their due diligence on this. That should be commended."