Gov. Phil Murphy said his administration will have done more for Camden’s economic success than any other governor, following accusations from city officials that his tax break criticisms are actually a veiled attack on Camden and his South Jersey political opponents.
Murphy has been highly critical of the Grow New Jersey tax breaks, vastly expanded in 2013 under then-Gov. Chris Christie, and to which the lion’s share of credits went to corporations for them to move their headquarters to Camden.
“When all is said and done, no administration will have done more for Camden than this administration,” Murphy said at an unrelated event in Newark Wednesday afternoon. “The key is that whatever we do, it has to work for everybody and not just some of the folks.”
The governor convened a task force to scrutinize which businesses applied for tax breaks and how they applied, how the Economic Development Authority vetted those applications, and how the Grow NJ legislation – called the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 – was crafted.
Last week, the task force unearthed allegations that businesses with strong ties to insurance executive and South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross were able to obtain the better part of $1.6 billion of tax breaks that went to businesses moving into Camden.
But Murphy’s comments drew the ire of former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who preceded Republican Christie in office.
Corzine came to the defense of Christie and George Norcross.
“When I took office, Camden was under state supervision, had a national reputation for violent crime and there was limited economic activity,” Corzine said in a written statement. “Working with caring and dedicated community leaders, business and local government officials (including law enforcement), significant progress was made in lowering crime rates.
“My successor, Gov. Christie, with whom I rarely agree, continued these economic development initiatives and effectively extended the state’s partnership in the city’s renewal,” Corzine added.
Murphy unveiled the task force on the heels of a January audit from the state comptroller which found that the EDA failed to thoroughly vet recipients of billions of dollars of tax credits that were awarded between 2005 and 2017, and lacked the means to thoroughly monitor compliance with the program.
Kevin Sheehan, a partner at Parker McKay, a law firm run by George’s brother, Philip Norcross, was able to write provisions of the tax break law which benefited clients of the law firm, the task force revealed.
Sheehan also took part in “unregistered lobbying” by crafting the Grow NJ legislation to benefit clients of the firm, according to legal documents and testimony presented at last week’s hearing.
Camden officials last week shot back at the task force, saying accusing the Murphy administration and his “blatantly political leaning task force established by him” of taking part in “relentless, unfounded and disingenuous attacks on the businesses making generational investments.”
Norcross has been a strong ally of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, who is the top elected official in the state Legislature and an oft-political opponent of Murphy on issues such as the state budget and marijuana legalization. The tax break debates have been viewed by insiders as a political scuffle between the two figures.
Sweeney wants to renew Grow NJ, albeit tweaked, while Murphy wants to let Grow NJ expire when it lapses in July and replace it with a series of heavily reigned in tax incentives.