State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) doesn't hold back when he's asked if Republican Gov. Chris Christie will be running for president in 2016.
“It's obvious that he is,” Lesniak — and just about everyone else — says.
And Lesniak says if Christie wants to boost his White House credentials, he needs to do more to create jobs and address affordable housing needs in the state. One way to start, Lesniak says, is by giving his blessing on the Economic Opportunity Act II, a new round of business incentives Lesniak is sponsoring.
"I do expect bipartisan support because we still lag behind the region and nation in job creation," Lesniak said.
The latest package of incentives is follow-up legislation to the much-heralded Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, which Christie signed into law in September.
The Act II bill was introduced Thursday before the Senate Economic Growth Committee and features both new elements and some previously removed from the original act through a conditional veto issued by Christie.
The package includes five key elements:
Lesniak says this speaks straight to some of the state's poorer, urban communities, where he says the mandatory set-aside has been a "disincentive to produce any housing in those areas." It is a provision Lesniak had originally fought to embed in the first incentives bill, but declined to press for due to concern of stalling the legislation further.
In support of the act, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop testified before the Senate panel last week, stressing that expanding the state's film industry incentives would not only benefit his city, but be a job creator statewide. Both Fulop and Lesniak say it's a necessary step in ensuring that industry jobs have a home in New Jersey, as opposed to New York, where similar incentives also are readily available.
In 2011, Christie vetoed a similar film incentives bill that Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to override.
"There's a great need for these redevelopments," Lesniak said.
The tax credits would provide incentives to redevelop and transform unsafe, crime-ridden high-rise buildings in a similar way that federal funding once provided for through programs such as HOPE VI. The state must act, Lesniak says, because there's no use in waiting around for Washington.
"That federal money is gone and it's not coming back," Lesniak said.
Cut out from the original legislation by Christie's veto, the tax incentive for this purpose has been slightly scaled back, something that Lesniak hopes will get it through this time.
"They have been the white elephant and are virtually abandoned properties now," Lesniak said of the facilities.
It's too early to tell right now whether this round of incentives will face the same bumpy road that its predecessor did, says New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Relations Michael Egenton.
But there is incentive to work speedily, he says, noting that as a result of the long process of passing the original bill, "we probably suffered a little bit from that."
Egenton said he's unsure how these new incentives will play out, especially with budgetary limitations still undefined. Regardless, he doesn't see stringent party lines being an obstruction to the discussion.
"Everybody across both sides of the aisle understands the critical nature of this type of legislation," Egenton said.
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