Follow-up legislation to the Economic Opportunity Act, the New Jersey business incentives overhaul signed into law in September, was unanimously released from the Senate Economic Growth Committee today.
The bill, dubbed the Economic Opportunity Act II, will now head to the Senate Budget Committee. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who serves as chair of the growth committee, is the bill's lead sponsor.
"We need to do more to create jobs," Lesniak told NJBIZ earlier this week. "We are lagging behind the region and the country in job creation."
Incentives featured in the bill include additional tax credits for the repurposing of former health care facilities, the rehabilitation of affordable housing units and for the state's film and digital media production industry. Also included are a relaxation of some affordable housing set-asides and an extension of the total amount of appeal bonds in a civil action.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop testified before the panel this morning in support of the film credits, a section of the bill which has been coined the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act. Fulop said that incentives for the industry would bring skilled, high-paying jobs to all areas of the state and provide an "enormous boost" to the economy.
Jersey City, in particular, has a lot to gain from the bill, Fulop said. The city's cultural landscape and architecture will allow for it to be competitive with the likes of New York and other places out of state.
"We're a living production studio and producers are well aware of that," Fulop said.
Lesniak today invoked lyrics from Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" in describing how New Jersey would get back film industry jobs it has lost due to a lack of incentives. Referencing part of the song which talks about jobs leaving the town, Lesniak said the bill would work against that notion.
"These ones are coming back," Lesniak said.
In issuing his vote of approval today, state Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sparta) said that while the legislation is another good step, the Legislature still has "a lot more work to do" in improving the state's business climate.
"My focus has completely been on trying to make New Jersey competitive again," Oroho said.
However, the bill did not advance today without some dissent.
Noting that his organization has a "long history of being opposed to subsidies," Americans for Prosperity state director Daryn Iwicki testified today that instead of continuing to offer "corporate welfare handouts," the state should be working to improve its tax climate.
AFP communications director Mike Proto added that the bill was designed to pick "winners and losers in the marketplace."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, testified today that language regarding energy efficiency and green building standards need to be incorporated into the legislation. He added that environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Highlands and Pinelands, need to be protected by removing them from consideration for development.
"Under the existing law we are giving subsidies for building in our last remaining open spaces and areas that were just destroyed by Hurricane Sandy," Tittel said in a statement following the hearing. "Some of these areas we should be building in because we are putting that money out to sea for the next storm."