Transportation Trust Fund, film incentives, affordable housing and more …
TRANSPORTATION TRUST FUND
Michael McGuinness, CEO of the commercial developers group NAIOP New Jersey, says that “prior to a couple of months ago,” Christie’s “potential plans for national office definitely colored” his ability to embrace certain funding options for the beleaguered Transportation Trust Fund.
The cliché of “kicking the can down the road” has been one used in Trenton for quite some time regarding the fund and it appeared, at least for a while, that the Christie administration was poised to do the same.
But then came Christie’s nomination of Jamie Fox to head the state Department of Transportation, and the governor also began calling for all potential funding options to be considered, summed up with the popular refrain of “everything is on the table.”
McGuinness says that “within the last couple of months, I see things happening.” While he says he would have preferred the administration to have come up with a “bolder” strategy for tackling the trust fund “sooner,” the gears are currently at least in motion.
“I think the stars are aligning within the Legislature and the front office to finally do the right thing and come up with a plan,” McGuinness said.
While there may be movement on the Transportation Trust Fund, the future of affordable housing regulations in the state remains incredibly murky.
In September, Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would have suspended a 2.5 percent fee on commercial projects that is set aside to fund low-and moderate-income housing projects. The move came as a surprise to developers, as the governor had previously supported efforts to suspend the fee.
Then, just two weeks ago, the embattled Council on Affordable Housing was unable to adopt its latest set of rules despite being previously ordered by the state Supreme Court to do so.
All of that likely means, for developers and the commercial real estate industry, the current state of limbo will remain as is, at least while the Christie administration is in place.
McGuinness says he doesn’t believe there’s any connection between the Christie administration’s actions on affordable housing and the governor’s aspirations for higher political office.
But while McGuinness does believe the Christie administration still has time to tackle the issue effectively if it wants to, he notes that “time is running out on that happening in a reasonable period of time.”
So that means any clearer direction on the matter might have to come from either legislative relief or a changing of the guard.
Proponents of the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act received a boost last month when an Assembly panel advanced the measure. Already passed in the Senate, the bill would seek to expand upon the state’s incentive offerings for film and digital media productions.
But while the bill makes its way through the Legislature onward to Christie’s desk, the concern has always been the governor’s veto pen. Christie has previously vetoed a similar measure.
Lesniak, a primary sponsor of the bill, says he’s not worrying about that just yet. He says he’ll look to push the bill through, regardless of who is sitting in the governor’s office.
“I certainly have concerns because of the job opportunities that we’ll be losing,” Lesniak said. “But that’s not going to stop me from trying to change the governor’s mind.”
There’s a holdup on the state’s development of its offshore wind industry. Despite signing legislation in 2010 that was geared to develop the industry, the Christie administration has stalled in advancing it further.
In recent interviews with NJBIZ, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley said that they each believe politics is in play.
“The Koch brothers, they don’t like clean energy,” Sweeney said. “So the BPU never puts the (regulations) in place.”
“The governor’s clearly positioning himself to run for president in 2016 and that has obvious policy ramifications here in New Jersey,” O’Malley said.
Lesniak has always been quick to criticize Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Republican Party mega-donor.
Adelson hates Internet gaming and has previously said he’ll spend “whatever it takes” to stop it from expanding.
With New Jersey being one of the few states to currently offer online casinos, you can imagine what kind of problem that presents for a certain governor that would need a certain donor to help fund a certain campaign for higher office.
While Christie has not necessarily backtracked on Internet gaming, some say he has done little to promote its growth.
That’s especially the concern with PokerStars, the online gaming giant that has seen its entry into the New Jersey market stalled for quite some time.
Though state officials had previously blocked PokerStars over concerns of unsavory business practices, the company is under new ownership after being sold over the summer and appears to be ready to play.
Though Lesniak had tweeted out a cryptic message in September about a major PokerStars announcement on the way, it has been crickets ever since.
That could have something to do with the Adelson-Christie dynamic and the prospect of 2016 on the horizon, he said.
“I am concerned that he’s holding up PokerStars investing in Atlantic City,” Lesniak said.
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