Last year, Governor Phil Murphy said New Jersey was giving out far too many corporate tax breaks based on backroom deals that “wasted” up to $ 11 billion in taxpayers’ money.
“New Jersey could have funded our public schools, funded NJ Transit, met our pension obligations, had more property tax breaks, or all of the above,” he said.
This week he joined lawmakers in proposing “reform” that will allow more corporate tax breaks than ever before, accelerating the strategy he condemns. And everything happened behind closed doors, with the public excluded as before.
The 219-page bill is impenetrable and filled with special interest regulations, but there is no time to examine and uncover it. Business and union lobbyists have been looking for legislative benefits for months, but the public got their first glimpse when the bill was unveiled Wednesday. The bill had its first and only hearing on Friday and is expected to be passed on Monday.
This thing is greased folks. And several reliable sources said it was Murphy himself who insisted on this fast lane. The guy who talks about transparency rules from his secret bunker again.
Some of the governor’s progressive allies feel betrayed. Brandon McCoy of New Jersey Policy Perspective called this “a slap in the face of New Jersey taxpayers” that would “cause long-term damage.”
Sue Altman, a South Jersey activist who was knocked down by state troopers during a protest in 2019 at a Senate hearing on tax incentives, tried to digest the bill and wondered why she was redefining projects in a “ Aviation “Benefits Zone” in Atlantic County.
“There are sneaky things, but it takes time and expertise to go through it all,” she says. “I’m really disappointed and this is really badly thought out.”
The deal breaks a political impasse that focused on the governor’s insistence on a cap that would cap the total value of tax breaks, and cites data showing that New Jersey has been far more generous than other states. Murphy initially suggested caps totaling $ 340 million per year, a strict diet for a program that peaked in 2015 at $ 1.8 billion in awards.
Murphy has a hat, but it’s a joke. The cap is $ 11.5 billion in loans over six years, or an average of $ 1.9 billion per year. So forget about the diet. This allows companies to eat more than ever.
“It really undermines a lot of things that this administration believed in,” says McCoy. “It takes my breath away.”
In a way, this bill appears to be an improvement over the disastrous 2013 law that is supposed to be replaced, at least at first glance.
It would appoint an inspector general with the Economic Development Authority to protect itself from insider influence exposed by a governor-appointed task force, particularly on projects sponsored by George Norcross, the energy broker in South Jersey who refused to discuss it.
The new bill also targets projects that serve public goals more precisely. The aim is to promote investments in brownfield sites, monument preservation and new supermarkets in “food deserts”. A fund will be set up to enable the state to provide bridge finance for businesses that promise rapid job growth and $ 50 million for small businesses.
“Doesn’t it make sense to develop a wasteland that would otherwise remain inactive?” says meeting speaker Craig Coughlin. “Doesn’t it help to have a ShopRite in a community that hasn’t had a grocery store in a decade or two?”
The excuse for the rush is the pandemic offered by Coughlin, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and the Governor’s Chief of Staff George Helmy.
“We have to come into play,” says Coughlin. “New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware – all have incentive programs and we’ve been on the sidelines for 18 months. We are now positioning ourselves for the end of the pandemic. That bill contains many jobs. “
But come on. This is obviously being worked through at high speed because the governor and lawmakers don’t want control and even at a cost of $ 11.5 billion, don’t care about public contributions. It could take them a month or two to check, and they could still be ready to catch the wave when the pandemic ends.
Senator Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, shot down the apology during the Senate’s only hearing on the bill on Friday. “If that’s the case, we should have started this process a month ago,” he said. “We all have a lot of questions. I do not believe that Evelyn Wood can read and understand everything that is in this bill even in 24 hours. “
Murphy was asked about the bill and rush on Wednesday following his briefing on the virus.
“This will change our state,” he said.
Could be. But when the stakes are so high, does the public have no right to weigh itself?
More: Columns by Tom Moran
Tom Moran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.