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Incentives are great, but not a cure-all to N.J.’s woes

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Perhaps lawmakers had the film tax credit component in mind when they came up with the ill-advised name “Economic Opportunity Act II.” Shouldn't it also say “Revenge of the Incentives” or “The Return of Ray Lesniak”?

In any case, the ink on the Economic Opportunity Act has yet to dry and we're already discussing how we need to fix it, sort of like Jacksonville Jaguars fans after the first snap of the season. This isn't exactly new — the massive Urban Transit Hub subsidy went through more rewrites than “Ulysses” — but it does give us some degree of pause, even though more action in Trenton is needed to reverse the state's woeful unemployment numbers.

Let's take a look at some of the provisions. The set-aside for affordable housing that would relax development requirements in poorer urban communities is a solid idea, but Lesniak pulled it from the original Economic Opportunity Act, fearing it would complicate already-tense negotiations. Does it now have the support it'll need to get to Chris Christie's desk? The additional affordable housing redevelopment measure, meanwhile, is extremely narrow — only nine counties are in, and the requirements may be too demanding to attract developer interest.

The film tax credit is unpopular with Republicans and Christie, especially after the “Snooki subsidy” of 2011, when the EDA approved a $420,000 subsidy for “Jersey Shore.” Likewise, the tax credits to repurpose shuttered hospitals and health care centers have been struck down before.

We're all for incentives programs that help make New Jersey a more competitive place to do business. The original, or classic, Economic Opportunity Act was that kind of a bill, in that it streamlined established programs, put the focus on adding jobs and made economic development a priority. This is New Coke — an imitation comprised of a different set of ingredients sold under a popular name.

Having just ushered in such a landmark development as the Economic Opportunity Act, we feel legislators ought to let the new programs play out, and save a sequel to fix any problems or shortcomings that might crop up in its implementation. If the Legislature wants to do something sweeping, it should consider how to manage affordable housing policy, create a more equitable tax code or enact education reforms that rein in runaway spending. Those would create real economic changes that would truly give business owners an incentive to locate here.

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