Bills to overhaul business incentives go on back burner as Trenton readies for budget hearings

Joshua Burd//March 15, 2013//

Bills to overhaul business incentives go on back burner as Trenton readies for budget hearings

Joshua Burd//March 15, 2013//

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Closely watched bills that would reshape the state’s business and development incentives will have to wait until at least early May, their two top sponsors said today, as lawmakers fine-tune the measures while getting through several weeks of budget hearings.

But the sponsors, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) and Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), both said they remain confident about the future of the legislation, with the effort garnering broad support and two related bills clearing their respective committees earlier this week.

Support for the plan was plain to see last week, when top state officials — including Gov. Chris Christie — pledged publicly to act quickly on its passage. But following a host of input received in recent weeks, the bills will not be ready for full vote before the budget hearings begin next week.

“We are in a much better place today than we were three weeks ago,” Coutinho said. He later added, “There are no landmines, but we really are in an intensive technical review to make sure that everything works out the way it should.”

Coutinho noted the size and scope of the proposed overhaul, which would consolidate five incentive programs into two while expanding eligibility and putting a greater focus on job creation. He said “we still have some tightening up to do” in areas like eligibility criteria in sensitive areas, the phase-out of current programs and ensuring the state Economic Development Authority still has the capacity to support large, transformative projects.

Lesniak stressed even if the bill was heard in the Senate budget committee Monday morning, it could not have been turned around in time for the chamber’s last full session before the budget break, which is later that afternoon.

“We’ve received substantial testimony and request for amendments that still have to be digested and acted upon. But I think we can do that in short order,” Lesniak said.

Michael McGuinness, New Jersey CEO of NAIOP, the commercial development group, said he was not concerned by the delay after hearing support from Christie and top Democratic lawmakers. But he also said his organization, one several business groups that support the overhaul, wants to “minimize any risk or any potential for disruptions that may distract or take the focus away” from the objective of economic development.

“We’re very laser-focused on these policy objectives that we’re trying to make sure happen, so that the state is positioned in the best light to take advantage of any opportunities that come our way,” McGuinness said.

Lesniak, meanwhile, didn’t rule out having lawmakers hear his bill during the budget recess.

“There are exceptions made where the budget committee will consider specific bills in important circumstances,” he said. “And I think it is important to keep this bill moving.”