Gov. Phil Murphy has asked for the resignation – and already received one – of five appointees to the board of the Economic Development Authority, the agency accused of mismanagement and weak oversight of the state’s multi-billion dollar tax break program which the governor wants to replace.
Board chair Laurence Downes confirmed Tuesday that he will step down, effective immediately. The other four members are gubernatorial appointees, according to a source with knowledge of the requests.
Downes, who is also chief executive officer of New Jersey Resources, parent company of New Jersey Natural Gas, said Tuesday that he agreed to step down after speaking with the governor.
“The governor has expressed his belief that in the current climate, a new board will be more effective to carry out the EDA’s mission, and I fully agree,” Downes said in a statement Tuesday night.
Murphy’s resignation requests were first reported by NJ Advance Media, which stated that all five members were former Gov. Chris Christie-appointees. In addition to Downes, the Christie appointees on the board are Thomas Scrivo, Fred Dumont, Massiel Medina Ferrara, Philip Alagia, Bill Layton, John Lutz and Louis Goetting
Several activist groups issued a letter to the board last week calling for their resignation, arguing that corruption and mismanagement ran rampant under the watch of the majority Christie-appointed board.
“Last week the board heard from New Jersey’s grassroots, furious over years of waste and mismanagement at the EDA. Now they have heard from their governor. It’s time for NJEDA’s appointed board members to join Chairman Downes in stepping down so that a new board can begin to rebuild the public’s broken trust,” New Jersey Working Families Interim Director Rod Duffy said Tuesday night.
Murphy has ramped up public scrutiny of the EDA, following a January audit from the state comptroller’s office which found the agency lacked oversight of billions of dollars in the Grow New Jersey tax break program – vastly expanded in 2013 under Christie – that he wants to replace when it expires in July.
Two supporters of Grow NJ – Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District – unveiled a legislative panel to gauge what the new incentives should look like.
Meanwhile, a tax incentive task force that Murphy put together, armed with subpoena power, said last week that it has made a criminal referral related to unregistered lobbying that was conducted as a means to craft the Grow NJ program.