The insurance firm headed by South Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross will not use state tax incentives for the costs of a helipad atop its Camden headquarters, counsel for the company said Tuesday.
That is according to a 17-page letter by Heather Steinmiller, general counsel at Conner Strong & Buckelew, which won a roughly $86 million tax break from the state in 2017.
Her letter was addressed to a task force that Gov. Phil Murphy put together in January to scrutinize the state’s Grow New Jersey corporate incentive program, which is administered by the Economic Development Authority and has awarded roughly $7 billion since its expansion in 2013. The task force has homed in on how companies with strong ties to Norcross allegedly rigged the tax break program to unfairly win massive state tax breaks.
But the task force, Steinmiller writes, is nothing more than Murphy’s “tool of revenge” to wage a campaign of political retaliation against Norcross.
“The original project submitted to the EDA included a helipad on the roof of the building. The project was subsequently modified to reduce the overall cost and to eliminate the helipad from consideration by the EDA,” Steinmiller wrote in a footnote toward the end of the letter.
“The project summary was revised to remove the helipad. Accordingly, when CSB certifies its costs and project completion to EDA, it will not include any costs related to the installation of the helistop atop the building,” she continues.
The task force, in its June report, said that the tax breaks covered the costs of the helipad.
“The new office tower on the Camden waterfront for which Conner Strong & Buckelew was approved for an $86 million award included a rooftop helipad, the construction of which is within the scope of the statutory ‘capital investment’ definition,” the report reads.
“Whether Grow NJ was intended to enable the state to subsidize helipads for corporate executives can reasonably be questioned,” it continues.
Conner Strong, along with The Michaels Organization and NFI won a combined $240 million tax break in 2017 to build a new headquarters on the Camden waterfront—which includes a helipad atop the office tower.
Steinmiller also disputed allegations by the task force that NFI, TMO and Conner Strong provided shoddy and questionable information about their plans to move to Philadelphia if they did not win the tax breaks. Conner Strong’s submission to the EDA of changing office quotes at the Philadelphia location were because certain rental options were no longer available, suggesting that such changes should not have “cast doubt,” as was outlined in the report.
She said that there was certainly a possibility that Conner Strong might move to Philadelphia, given the number of employees who live in Pennsylvania.
The report points to media coverage and press releases of Norcross in 2015 saying he would move to Camden, including a TV interview where he said it was “absolutely true” that he would invest $50 million into the city’s waterfront, suggesting the tax breaks would have never been needed for a move to the city.
“He was not asked, and he did not say, that [Conner Strong and Buckelew], or any of the other companies, had committed to moving their companies to Camden,” the Tuesday letter from Steinmiller reads.
The task force alleges that all three companies said hundreds of jobs were “at risk” of leaving the state without the tax breaks.
Murphy let Grow NJ expire on July 1 rather than sign a bill lawmakers sent him to extend the program for seven months while he and fellow Democrats in the Legislature put together a new set of incentives.