South Jersey political power broker and insurance executive George Norcross III – who has been at the center of New Jersey’s heated corporate tax break controversies – is slated to appear before lawmakers this November to delve into the now-expired incentive program, NJBIZ has learned.
Norcross’ appearance before the Senate Select Committee for Economic Growth Strategies – which spokesperson Daniel Fee confirmed to NJBIZ – could be his first public appearance since the tax break scandal began in earnest this January.
A task force that Gov. Phil Murphy put together in January to scrutinize the now-expired program known as the Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks has repeatedly honed in on how those with close ties to Norcross may have unethically and unfairly won massive state tax breaks.
Of the nearly $1.6 billion of tax breaks awarded for companies to move to Camden – among the most impoverished cities nationwide – $1.1 billion of those were awarded to businesses and individuals with strong ties to Norcross, according to the task force.
Several other businesses which the Senate Democrats Office said will testify have also had their tax break payments withheld while the Economic Development Authority – tasked with overseeing Grow NJ and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth gap financing program – makes sure the businesses are actually compliant with the tax break agreements.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District – a key supporter of Norcross and cheerleader of the controversial Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks – put together the committee to gauge what Grow NJ’s replacement should be after the governor allowed the program to expire in July.
The committee held three hearings, and although Norcross has pressed lawmakers for the chance to testify to address the allegations, he has not appeared at those three meetings.
Conner Strong & Buckelew won an $86 million tax break in 2017 to move into an 18-story Camden waterfront office tower, along with logistics company NFI and homebuilding company The Michaels Organization, both of which the task force also scrutinized.
Cooper Health won a $39 million tax break and has fallen under scrutiny for questionable information the task force said it may have provided about bogus plans to move out of the state if it did not win the tax breaks.
Kevin Sheehan, an attorney at Parker McCay where George’s brother Philip is a partner, provided counsel to several other businesses which employed similar tactics as Cooper to win state tax breaks, the task force alleges.
Sheehan also allegedly wrote several provisions of the Grow NJ legislation which benefited Norcross-tied companies.
Parker McCay, Cooper, Conner Strong & Buckelew and NFI sued unsuccessfully to have the task force disbanded and to halt the release of a report detailing legislation and the tax break applications that allowed businesses to unfairly benefit from the program. That report was ultimately released in June, detailing at least $500 million of tax breaks improperly awarded.
The businesses which will testify and which had their tax break payments withheld will include Audible which won a $39 million tax break in 2015, Lockheed Martin which won a $107 million tax break in 2016, Forbes Media which won a $27 million tax break in 2014, Sandoz, Inc. which won a $9.1 million tax break in 2014 and Rent the Runway, Inc. which won a $14.6 million tax break in 2014.
Other businesses will include Tropicana Atlantic City which won a $4.8 million ERG grant in 2014, B Positive Blood Services which won a $3.6 million tax break in 2015, Calletus Teterboro Urban Renewal, LLC. which won an $18.7 million ERG grant in 2012 and EMR Eastern LLC, which won a $134 million tax break in 2015 for moving to Camden.