A task force Gov. Phil Murphy appointed to scrutinize the state’s corporate tax breaks now argues that some parts of the legislation establishing the program could be unconstitutional because of provisions allegedly written to benefit specific individuals and businesses.
“Because portions of the Grow [New Jersey] statute were drafted to favor particular parties and disfavor others, we think that there is a very real question as to whether those portions of the statute are unconstitutional,” task force chief counsel Jim Walden said at the panel’s July 9 hearing.
According to the task force, Parker McCay — the law firm run by Philip Norcross, brother of political powerbroker George Norcross – crafted many provisions of the 2013 bill which end ended up directly benefiting several Parker McCay clients or businesses tied to George Norcross.
The task force has suggested that Parker McCay inserted provisions that companies considering a move to Camden did not have to show that they would leave the state and take the jobs with them if they did not win the tax breaks. Instead, they need only show that the incentives were a “material factor” in their move to Camden.
New Jersey’s constitution, Walden said, bars “special legislation … meaning that tax legislation is not supposed to be passed for the specific benefit of a company or an individual.”
Walden cited the example of a tax break bonus for a Camden grocery store that was worded so as to exclude a company competing against a client of Optimus Partners, a lobbying firm where Philip Norcross is a partner.
But former State Senator Ray Lesniak disputed that the move ran afoul of the state law and constitution, arguing that the practice was a common, accepted and vital component of economic redevelopment.
“Jersey Gardens Mall was special legislation under your definition, the Amazon tax credit that we offered that Governor Murphy supported 1,000 percent under your definition was special legislation,” Lesniak said.