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As politicians trade blows, companies count the spoils

Verbal sparring from campaign trail leading to pro-business bills

At a time when the economy is foremost on New Jersey voters’ minds, legislators running for re-election are vying for the stronger claim for which party has done more to build a recovery.

At a time when the economy is foremost on New Jersey voters’ minds, legislators running for re-election are vying for the stronger claim for which party has done more to build a recovery.

Along with trading press releases and sound bites, the competition has led to concrete benefits for businesses, including a wave of tax incentive bills the Senate passed Sept. 26.

While both parties seek to turn their positions on business issues to their advantage, trade groups say the competition is good for businesses.

“It’s absolutely a good thing,” said Thomas A. Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “What this shows is that this administration has campaigned on and followed through on pro-business, pro-growth policies.”

Bracken said the parties may differ on details — such as whether to expand tax credits offered to production companies filming here — but their verbal sparring is producing pro-business bills, a change in tone from previous administrations.

“Now there is bipartisan support on the growth side,” Bracken said. “I don’t know how much better you can have it.” The most prominent bills that passed included the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program, which will provide up to $200 million to commercial properties that have been vacant for more than a year.

There has been no shortage of that verbal sparring, however. Gov. Chris Christie‘s staff said while some bills considered by the Senate had bipartisan support, others “provide window dressing for Democrats during the election season.” Meanwhile, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) took a shot at Christie while emphasizing the bipartisan support of the bills.

“Democrats and Republicans joined together to pass over a dozen bills that will help create jobs and spur economic growth,” Sweeney said in a statement after the bills passed. “It is just unfortunate that the governor is halfway across the country raising funds for his political party, instead of being here working with us on these measures.”

Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) questioned whether the Democrats will continue to push for job creation.

“I just hope today is the start of something new, and not a frenzied election-year attempt by Democrats to make people believe they have a long-term plan to create jobs and distract taxpayers from the damage they’ve done while controlling Trenton for the last decade,” he said.

New Jersey Business & Industry Association President Philip Kirschner said regardless of the disagreements, it’s good to see both parties focused on business development.

“It’s a positive when you have all parties focused on the economy and on measures that would improve the economy and hopefully expand the number of jobs that are created,” he said.

Kirschner said business owners don’t care if good laws are passed for political reasons.

“I don’t think the businesspeople get caught up in the whys and wherefores. They deal with what is, and do what they can to help” pass measures that benefit the economy, he said.

Kirschner said he was pleased the Grow New Jersey bill passed in September, as it will support development outside of the urban areas that have received the bulk of larger state incentives.

“We have to fund projects in all areas of the state,” Kirschner said. “I’m not sure that we’re in a position where we can be selective in location” for incentives.

Kirschner said his organization would focus on advancing business-related bills, regardless of whether politicians timed votes for before or after the election.

“We don’t get involved in the timing of it,” he said. “Whenever (bills) appear, we go to work. The timing we leave to the people whose jobs it is to post bills, but when they are posted — like Grow New Jersey — we try to do whatever we can to get them enacted.”

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