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Senate approves changes to incentives legislation

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New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union)
New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) - (NJBIZ File)

At its scheduled voting session this afternoon, the Senate endorsed the changes Gov. Chris Christie ordered earlier this week in his conditional veto of a bill overhauling New Jersey's corporate incentives offerings.

The Assembly voted Monday to approve Christie's changes to the Economic Opportunity Act.

The bill seeks to consolidate five current incentive programs into two, while expanding eligibility and placing more focus on job creation.

After months of wrangling among lawmakers, the bill was finally sent to Christie late last month, but he recommended two changes — removing a requirement that union labor be used in construction and building services at projects that receive tax breaks, and eliminating tax credits for hospital redevelopment projects.

The legislation's top sponsor in the Senate, Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) has taken issue with one of the bill's provisions added on over the summer by the Assembly, requiring residential builders who receive subsidies to set aside 20 percent of their units for affordable housing.

Though he said that makes residential development unaffordable in some of New Jersey's cities, he has said he will look to tackle the issue through new legislation, rather than run the risk of delaying the bill any further.

The only dissenting vote in the Senate chamber came from state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington). Doherty called the bill a “form of crony capitalism,” adding that he believes it does more to give legislators in certain areas of the state the ability to fund pet projects rather than making New Jersey on the whole an attractive option for businesses.

“We should make the entire state a fertile ground for economic opportunity,” Doherty said.

But state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Middletown), a sponsor of the bill, sees it differently. Following the vote, Kyrillos said New Jersey is now nearly ready to compete with other states that also have passed significant business incentive measures.

“Now, we can tell families and job creators that the anxious wait is over, and the Economic Opportunity Act is finally on the brink of enactment to help ensure New Jersey retains and attracts employers in the immediate future,” Kyrillos said in a statement.

In a statement released today prior to the vote, New Jersey Business & Industry Association President Philip Kirschner applauded legislators for moving speedily to pass the bill following Christie’s conditional veto.

“By acting so quickly, legislators are sending a message that we are serious about making New Jersey more economically competitive, and creating and retaining private-sector jobs,” Kirschner said.

One major player in the bill's passage won't see it come to fruition. Former Assemblyman Al Coutinho (D-Newark) pleaded guilty today to theft from his family's nonprofit foundation and falsifying financial disclosure forms with the Legislature.

Coutinho, the bill's primary sponsor in the Assembly, was chairman of the Assembly's Commerce and Economic Development Committee as well as its budget and human services committees.

Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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