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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New jersey Globe)

Murphy not taking responsibility for rush to pass tax incentives reform

Lawmakers plan to approve $11.5 billion plan in less than a week

By Nikita Biryukov, December 16 2020 12:23 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy sidestepped a question about the breakneck pace with which lawmakers are attempting to pass tax incentive reforms during an unrelated press conference Wednesday.

“I’m not responsible for the legislative process, so you should ask the legislative side of the house in terms of that,” the governor said.

Murphy and Democratic leaders from both chambers of the legislature announced they’d reached a deal on reforms to the state’s troubled tax incentive programs nearly 18 months after they sunset in July 2018.

Appropriations committees in the Senate and Assembly are due to hold hearings on the bill, whose text is not yet available, on Friday. It’s set to get full votes before both chambers on Monday, meaning lawmakers will likely approve a bill appropriating up to $11.5 billion of corporate tax breaks over six years in less than a week.

It’s audacious even by Trenton’s standards, which commonly see bills amended as votes are being cast or see lawmakers voting without having seen the final version of the bill, and the rush to pass the bill has already drawn criticism from some of the state’s foremost advocates on tax incentive reform.

“The stakeholders in this bill are gonna harp that they’ve improved oversight, regulation & accountability,” New Jersey Policy Perspective President Brandon McKoy said on twitter. “True, but it’s is a joke to make that assertion while rushing it through in less than a week to avoid oversight, regulation & accountability.”

Details about most of the bill’s provisions remain scant, though its backers have said it would include increased oversight of the Economic Development Authority’s administration of the programs.

It’ll also include specific aid for small businesses, target underserved communities and lend some focus to the remediation of brownfield sites, though, again, there’s little precise indication on how the bill will accomplish those goals.

Murphy didn’t provided little in the way of detail Wednesday, saying only that the bill had elements resembling reforms his administration has called for since July.

“Is every bill perfect? Of Course not, when you’re trying to find compromise and common ground, but when you look at the principles and bedrock elements of this, they’re broadly speaking what’s been out there for a year,” he said.

The governor and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) were deadlocked on tax incentive reform for nearly a year-and-a-half over a disagreement on whether the programs should face an overall cap on the awards they can issue.

There, at least, it’s a victory for the governor.

“This has caps. It’s got strong compliance standards. It does a lot for communities that have been hit hard by COVID,” he said. “It’s got historical tax preservation, which we’ve never had in the state. That will transform communities, and I’m going to put Trenton at the top of that list.”

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