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Critics takes aim at corporate subsidies under Christie

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Critics are taking aim at corporate subsidies under Gov. Chris Christie.
Critics are taking aim at corporate subsidies under Gov. Chris Christie. - (Governors office / Tim Larsen)

On Wednesday, liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report indicating that since Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010, the state has awarded more than $4 billion in tax subsidies and credits to just 252 businesses, or approximately 1 percent of New Jersey’s estimated 200,000 companies.

While the state began doling out large subsidies before last year’s Economic Opportunity Act was passed and signed into law, the group claims the measure has “accelerated” what they deem to be a troubling trend.

Following the report’s release, a coalition anchored by Working Families United for New Jersey took to the Statehouse in Trenton on Thursday, calling on Christie to enact a corporate business tax, a step it claims could raise $450 million over the next two years and aid a revenue-depleted budget.

Consisting of members from WFUNJ, the Sierra Club, New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, National Organization for Women New Jersey Chapter, New Jersey United Students Association and the AFSCME District Council 1, the coalition was joined by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) on Thursday.

“It is said that every crisis is an opportunity and this one is no different,” Weinberg said. “Chris Christie is using our current budget crisis as an opportunity to slash funding for vital programs for the middle class while helping corporate interests walk away with billions. It’s time to do what’s right for struggling New Jersey families and ask corporations to pay their fair share.”

Charles Hall, Jr., WFUNJ chair, said it is “only fair to ask those who have received corporate welfare to pitch in and help resolve this crisis,” adding that now is “not time to give millionaires tax breaks and provide excessive corporate welfare.”

In a move that was met with a mix of praise and criticism Tuesday, the Economic Development Authority voted to approve $82 million in incentives for a new practice facility and office building in Camden for the Philadelphia 76ers.

NJPP president Gordon MacInnes said the deal, which the EDA estimates will bring a net benefit of $76.6 million to the state over 35 years, was “among the worst we’ve seen under the Economic Opportunity Act.”

State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington) was among the approval’s harshest critics this week, claiming the deal was essentially a free handout to Joshua Harris, the team’s owner.

“Gov. Christie states that we have an $800 million budget shortfall,” Doherty said. “Then why is New Jersey providing an $82 million gift for a billionaire? Local governments are being forced to cut to the bone. Why are we opening up the money spigot to take care of a billionaire? How can New Jersey not make this year’s full pension payment, but the state government can find an extra $82 million for a basketball practice facility?”

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Christie applauded the project in a press conference this week.

“It’s not only good because of the additional tax revenue and business, but also for the image of the city of Camden,” Christie told reporters.

David Brogan, first vice president for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said that New Jersey needs incentives to compete with neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania, which have aggressive incentive policies in-place.

“We don’t have the luxury of just sticking our head in the sand,” Brogan said.

And while Brogan says there is “no perfect project that is going to please everybody,” the focus of any particular project should be on its net benefit to the state.

“The reality check is that all these states are using (incentives),” added Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

“If we don’t participate in that, we’re going to lose opportunities to other states,” Egenton said.

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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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