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Update: Assembly adopts Christie's changes, sends incentives bill to Senate

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Chris Christie addresses a crowd in this file photo.
Chris Christie addresses a crowd in this file photo. - ()

The bill to overhaul the state's business incentives is now in the hands of the Senate, after the Assembly today adopted changes recommended hours earlier by Gov. Chris Christie.

As expected, the Assembly voted to concur with Christie's requested changes to the so-called Economic Opportunity Act, which would consolidate five incentive programs into two, expand eligibility and place a greater focus on job creation. The long-awaited bill is now scheduled to be considered by the Senate on Thursday.

The action follows months of deliberations among lawmakers, the administration and stakeholders for an effort seen as key to making New Jersey more competitive with other states. Christie has said for months that he would sign such a bill, and this morning he returned it to the Legislature with changes that include:

- Deleting a requirement for prevailing wages in construction and post-construction building services at projects that receive tax breaks
- Deleting a section that provides tax credits for hospital redevelopment projects

In a conditional veto message, Christie commended sponsors' efforts to improve the state's business and development incentives. He added that "the new opportunities for our state's businesses, employers, and workers contained in this bill represent a significant and needed modernization," but said the bill needed to be tweaked.

"With these minor, but important, modifications incorporated, I look forward to swiftly signing this bill," Christie wrote today.

The Assembly voted 70-6 to adopt Christie's changes. The Senate is now scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Thursday to consider the measure.

The incentives bill was sent to the governor's desk late last month, when the Senate passed an Assembly version adopted in late June. The progress was cheered by development and business advocates, who make up a broad coalition that support the incentives overhaul.

Despite being on the drawing board since last fall, the bill has been delayed by negotiations by lawmakers and the administration, while being expanded and loaded with bonuses for South Jersey aimed at appealing to lawmakers from the region.

Christie's conditional veto did not address a requirement that residential builders who receive subsidies set aside 20 percent of their units for affordable housing, a provision added by the Assembly this summer that was opposed by its top sponsor in the Senate. The sponsor, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, said the mandate made residential development unaffordable in cities like Elizabeth, Trenton and Camden, but opted to move the bill to Christie's desk last month rather than risk further delays through negotiations.

Lesniak has said he hopes to address the requirement through new legislation.

Christie's action today quickly drew praise and criticism from stakeholders.

New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning advocacy group, said, "There were plenty of ways the governor could have used his veto pen to make this reform of New Jersey's business tax subsidy programs stronger, smarter and more effective."

"Instead, he used his veto power to remove one of the few positive elements of the legislation," NJPP President Gordon MacInnes said in a prepared statement, referring to the prevailing wage requirements. "What the governor has done is take a bad piece of legislation and make it even worse."

But the New Jersey Business & Industry Association urged lawmakers to support the governor's changes and "approve this critical piece of legislation as soon as possible."

"The competition for private-sector jobs is extremely intense regionally, nationally and globally," Philip Kirschner, the group's president, said in a prepared statement. "This bill creates two very attractive incentive programs that will become the critical tools that New Jersey can use to not only compete for those jobs and investments, but to win those battles."

The Economic Opportunity Act would consolidate and expand the Grow New Jersey and Economic Redevelopment and Growth tax incentives, while phasing out the Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant, the Business Employment Incentive, and the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit programs.

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