Anyone trying to navigate New Jersey politics will not get very far before hearing the name George Norcross. The Camden County political powerbroker, executive chairman at Conner Strong & Buckelew, and chairman of the board of trustees at Cooper University Health Care is widely regarded as the state’s most powerful unelected individual.
Norcross played a leading role in crafting the Christie-era Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks, which were expanded in 2013 but which have fallen under intense scrutiny by the Murphy administration.
Many Camden companies with which Norcross is affiliated stood to benefit from Grow NJ, including $40 million the Economic Development Authority awarded to Cooper in 2014 to expand its Camden footprint, and another $86 million the EDA awarded to Conner, Strong & Buckelew in 2017. Norcross is moving the firm from Marlton to the Camden waterfront.
Public policy watchdogs have unearthed more examples. For one, the language of New Jersey’s 2018 sports betting legislation – which crafted a regulatory framework for the business – was written to allow sports bets to be accepted at Towne Place at Garden State Park, the site of a former racetrack and now a commercial and residential development owned by Norcross allies Jack Morris and Joseph Marino.
Notably for Murphy’s efforts to reign in tax breaks, Norcross has defended the incentives directed toward the city of Camden. He argued that the awards play an important role in the city’s revitalization and noted that a comptroller’s audit found that the companies involved had fulfilled their obligations. “But to be certain,” Norcross wrote on NJ.com, “I promise that if I learn of any Camden companies are not keeping their commitments, I will fully support the revocation of any benefit they have received.” It would be foolish to run afoul of that vow.