The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is rolling out the public comment period for what could be a months-long rulemaking process of a massive, controversial economic incentive package.
Tim Sullivan, who heads the NJEDA, says he anticipates significant public debate as the state agency oversees the rules for the new incentive package.
“As we develop these important new programs, we will do so with a commitment to transparency, equity, and faithful stewardship of taxpayer dollars at the center of this effort,” he said in a Feb. 17 announcement.
Public comments submitted now should be geared toward thoughts on the enabling legislation and how the agency “should implement the ERA programs,” according to the NJEDA website. The online form allows for comments on any of the 20 programs created or expanded under the ERA.
Later, the agency will post “specific questions” for which they’re seeking public input, followed by a 60-day public comment period on the proposed rules.
The economic stimulus package includes $11.5 billion for a variety of corporate and business incentive programs over a seven-year period, meant to lure businesses, developers and investment dollars into the state.
And it includes $2.5 billion toward an expanded film and television tax credit program over a 13-year period and over $200 million toward a 2013 program meant to entice residential redevelopment.
But the measure sped through the state Legislature in a matter of days in December and was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy just weeks after on Jan. 7.
That speedy process drew criticism from progressives and government transparency groups worried that the bill’s complexity and the speed of its passage would allow language to be inserted that would unfairly benefit well-connected individuals, businesses or groups.
Sullivan said the rulemaking and public comment process is meant to offer input for those worried about oversight and efficacy within the incentive package.
“I would expect and look forward to a robust public comment process. We’ll hear from advocates and transparency-oriented stakeholders as well as business-oriented stakeholders,” he said in an interview in late December.
Certain programs could take most of the year before companies begin receiving awards, like with the tax breaks under the $1.1 billion per year NJ Emerge corporate tax breaks and the $1.1 billion per year NJ Aspire program for urban redevelopment gap financing, according to Sullivan.
A task force Murphy put together in 2019 investigated allegations of unethical and improper political influence over how the program was crafted and how tax breaks were awarded, with the focus on businesses with close ties to George Norcross, a South Jersey political powerbroker.
“We have to do this the right way. We have no choice,” Sullivan said in an interview in late December.
Under the new law, the NJEDA will create an inspector general and a chief compliance officer – recently filled by senior staffer Bruce Ciallela – to act as government watchdog for how billions of dollars of tax break dollars are awarded to businesses.
Award amounts per job for the tax break component are lower. Chief executive officers have to swear under penalty of perjury that their applications are truthful.