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Incentives overhaul backer still confident the bill will be ready for Christie this month

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Legislation to overhaul the state's business and development incentives won't be taken up by lawmakers today, but one of its top backers said he still expects the Senate and Assembly to meet this month to send a bill to Gov. Chris Christie's desk.

The so-called Economic Opportunity Act was originally slated for a vote today by the Senate, which would have considered a version that was amended by the lower chamber late last month when observers were expecting the bill to be finalized. But the session was canceled last week, Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said today, in large part because the Senate needs the Assembly to return to Trenton to discuss the amendments.

Lesniak, the top sponsor of the Senate version, said more negotiations are needed because "it's not like we're just going to pass what the Assembly gave us."

"We need to have a date where the Senate and Assembly can both meet so that we can get it done in one session," he said. "It has not been set, but everybody's presuming it's going to be sometime in July."

Related: Incentives bill treats the symptoms, not the disease

The senator said one remaining hang-up is over affordable housing requirements in residential projects that would be supported by the new subsidies. The bill would consolidate five incentives into two and loosen the geographic restrictions of the current programs, while implementing a broad series of bonus criteria to expand the size of awards.

Business and development groups have anxiously awaited the passage of the overhaul since early this year. Lesniak said he has heard some feedback related to the delays in recent weeks, but advocates are showing patience with lawmakers.

"I think people believe that we're going to get this done," he said. "We're taking a little bit longer than people wanted or expected, but I think there's a lot of confidence. And they should have a lot of confidence that this will be done shortly."

Reporter Joshua Burd is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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