As budget talks are set to begin, Gov. Phil Murphy touted one of his keynote proposals for the 2020 fiscal year — a state run venture capital fund which would invest in startups looking to grow in New Jersey — as he tries to build support among lawmakers and the voting public for his key spending plan priorities.
Murphy’s proposed New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund would clock in at $500 million over its lifetime — half of it financed through proceeds from auctioned off tax credits and the other half matched by private venture capitalists — and all of it going toward financing startups looking to call New Jersey their home.
The program is “evergreen” because interest and proceeds go back into the fund, Murphy said.
“The New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund is a bold new idea that will connect New Jersey startups with the funding they need to grow and foster a vibrant innovation ecosystem while generating new revenues for the state,” Murphy said Wednesday morning at the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technology, a collaborative workspace in North Brunswick.
Tim Sullivan, CEO of the Economic Development Authority, which oversees the state’s incentive programs, said that the mere proposal of the evergreen fund has brought worldwide attention to the state.
“Our phones have already been ringing from people who have heard about this fund, from places as far as Europe and California,” Sullivan said Wednesday.
But beyond the administration’s introduction of the proposal’s text to the state Legislature last December, the bill has not moved forward, Murphy said.
The evergreen fund would be one of five economic incentive programs, capped at $400 million a year according to the proposed budget and slated to replace the Christie-era Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks.
Murphy’s Wednesday pitch was the latest in his efforts to build public support for his priorities in the budget for the upcoming 2020 fiscal year, which expires on June 30 along with the existing tax incentives.
It follows a similarly-goaled press conference on 2020 state budget New Jersey Transit funding which calls for $25 million more into the statewide transit agency’s coffers, and $75 million that would not be diverted and used to plug holes in the budget.
His proposal has drawn out skepticism of some in his own party, such as Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, who decried the $25 million increase as a mere 1.6 percent bump in NJ Transit’s multi-billion dollar bump.
“Both Senate President [Stephen] Sweeney and I have questioned whether a $25 million increase to the operation of a $2.5 billion agency, which equals really to about one percent increase, is adequate to even continue service at current levels, much less improve service,” Weinberg said at an NJ Transit board meeting earlier this month.
Murphy said that if lawmakers want more funding, they should consider his controversial millionaire’s tax, which many top Democrats do not support.
But, Murphy added, lawmakers should keep their hands off the proposed savings and surplus called for in his budget — they should be used for the state’s rainy day fund and not to fund NJ Transit, he said on Tuesday afternoon in Maplewood.