Gov. Phil Murphy said he does not intend to take further steps to pressure members of the Economic Development Authority’s board members to resign.
“They’re the government appointees. We approached them. We laid out our case, kamathey made their decision. We have to respect that decision,” Murphy said. “We don’t agree with them, and as I said yesterday, the chairman and I, he’s a very dear friend who’s done an enormous amount of good, including for our administration. Larry Downes and I spoke last week. We both felt it was the right time to turn the page. The other folks didn’t see it that way. That’s their decision.”
Following an audit by state Comptroller Phil Degnan in January that found deficiencies with oversight of the authority’s tax incentive programs and non-compliance among award recipients, Murphy has taken aim at the EDA and is seeking to shutter many of its incentive programs run by the agency.
The agency and some companies that received awards under the program are facing investigations, including one by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office and another by a task force convened by the governor solely to investigate abuses of the EDA’s incentive programs.
In late March, Gulsen Kama, a former vice president at Jackson Hewitt, told the task force that the firm and Biggins Lacy Shapiro and Co., a Princeton-based site selection and tax incentives consulting firm, knowingly filed false applications for awards under EDA programs.
The task force is not a law enforcement agency, and though it has subpoena powers, it has no prosecutorial power. It can — and has — made referrals to the Attorney General’s office, which can file charges against those who lied or otherwise took advantage of the authority’s tax incentive programs.
Those referrals have not been made public, and Murphy would not to call for their public release when asked about the prospect Thursday.
“I’ll defer to whatever process that task force goes through,” Murphy said, adding that he had no visibility into that process. “But, the folks who screwed with the system are going to have to make sure they make the state whole. I cannot be in any other place. I’ve got to make sure, As the chief executive of the state, that we stand up and every penny is counted.”