A South Jersey political powerbroker at the center of the Murphy administration’s scrutiny and criticism into the state’s corporate tax breaks is asking lawmakers for the chance to testify on those incentives.
Insurance executive George Norcross’ Tuesday letter to several dozen lawmakers comes a day after Gov. Phil Murphy’s task force unveiled a 75-page report detailing how Norcross, as well as businesses and other allies within his social circle, rigged the Grow New Jersey legislation so that they could unfairly win at least $500 million of tax breaks.
Norcross said in the four-page letter that he wants the chance to appear before a similarly-goaled Senate committee which legislative leadership put together – armed with subpoena power – to gauge the effectiveness of Grow NJ and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth gap financing program.
The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for June 24, just a week before the July 1 expiration of both programs.
“I hope that testifying before your committee(s) will allow me to correct the factual inaccuracies, gross misstatements and misleading information released by the Governor’s Task Force about applications submitted by my firm, Conner Strong & Buckelew, and a handful of other Camden firms during its May meeting – a meeting at which we were denied the opportunity to participate,” Norcross said in a rare public statement.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, an ally of Norcross and oftentimes political opponent of Murphy, has been critical of how the task force has conducted its work and argued several of the Norcross-tied businesses highlighted by the task force should have the chance to offer their side of the story.
Conner Strong, where Norcross is a partner, is one of three tax break recipients that used the services of lawyer Kevin Sheehan at Parker McCay – where George’s brother Philip is a partner – to provide bogus information on their tax break applications about locations in Philadelphia where they would move if they did not win the incentives, according to the report.
Neither of the companies, which ultimately opened in a new office building on the Camden waterfront, ever had plans to leave the state, according to the report.
The EDA “did not have adequate procedures in place” to vet applicants, including “applicant misstatements, that would have led to the rejection of some applicants or a significant reduction in the number of certain awards,” the report said.
“Collectively, we have invested close to $250 million of private capital in the new building and our relocation will be the single largest influx of new employees to the City of Camden in at least 50 years, with over 110 of the Conner Strong jobs being relocated to New Jersey from out of state,” Norcross responded.
Cooper University Health Care, where George sits on the board, was also highlighted in the report as engaging in similar practices to win its tax breaks.
The tax breaks for the three companies could have been reduced by $70 million if the EDA properly calculated the applications, while the reward for Cooper would have been just $7 million, according to the report.
Norcross said these revelations and the entire report were “erroneous and factually incorrect and misleading.”
“Allowing those of us who have been unfairly maligned to detail the truth would only be fair, but more importantly, stopping the misleading attacks and ensuring those decision-makers and the public understand what is being done to rebuild Camden is critical to the city’s future,” he added.
Norcross complained that he and several of the other businesses were not offered any chance by the task force to present their case, other than a five-minute rebuff and a chance to submit written comments.
Murphy, at a press briefing earlier in the day said he was “horrified” by what he read in the task force report.
“This is worse than what we thought,” Murphy said. “We’re not just dealing with a broken system, we’re dealing with a rigged system.”