Assembly panel OKs bill to revamp tax incentive programs

By David Levinsky - www.phillyburbs.com

TRENTON — Legislation to renew and consolidate several of New Jersey’s tax incentive programs was approved Thursday by the Assembly Budget Committee.

Known as the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act, the bill would merge the five major tax incentive programs overseen by the state Economic Development Authority into two. The Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program would specialize in redevelopment help and job creation, and the Grow New Jersey assistance program would be dedicated to business attraction and retention.

In addition to simplifying both programs, the bill aims to boost the amount of money available and make it easier for smaller businesses from rural and suburban areas to qualify for the incentives offered by lowering the capital investment threshold required.

“We’re trying to tap into the small- and medium-size business market,” said Albert Coutinho, D-29th of Newark, the bill’s prime sponsor.

Coutinho and other sponsors said the ultimate goal is to reduce the state’s persistently high unemployment rate, at 9 percent last month, by making sure New Jersey’s incentives are competitive with those offered by surrounding states.

“We have to focus on job creation and economic development, and this bill will allow us to increase the ability of existing New Jersey businesses, including small- and mid-size companies, to use these economic tools to expand their businesses in place, and to create and retain New Jersey jobs,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-7th of Delanco, who co-sponsored the legislation with Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra.

“This is vital for job creation in a state where we’ve seen unemployment hovering near 10 percent,” Singleton said.

The bill has been endorsed by numerous business groups, whose leaders have described it as a must for the state’s economy. But some environmental groups worry that it will result in more development of New Jersey’s limited open space and cost state government tax revenue for other crucial programs.

Other opponents believe the tax incentives amount to corporate welfare and don’t create many new jobs.

“Every dollar spent on corporate subsidies is another not spent on education and clean energy and other things that create jobs,” said Bill Holland, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a coalition of citizen advocates and labor groups.

The Assembly Budget Committee voted 11-1 to release the measure and send it to the full Assembly for consideration.

Supporters hope it is quickly approved and signed by the governor as two of the incentive programs, Grow New Jersey and the authority’s Urban Transit Hub program, are nearing their $1.75 billion funding cap.

The Grow New Jersey program has been credited with saving more than 1,700 jobs at two of Burlington County’s largest employers: defense contractor Lockheed Martin and retailer Burlington Coat Factory. Each received $40 million in tax credits to make large capital investments. Lockheed plans to make equipment upgrades and other improvements at its Moorestown plant, and Burlington Coat Factory is building a corporate headquarters in Florence.

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