When the Urban Transit Hub tax credit program was signed by Jon Corzine, it raised a lot of eyebrows — both of interested business owners and skeptical critics — for the sheer size of the program’s $1.5 billion price tag.
And along with its size, it’s become as malleable as a well-chewed piece of saltwater taffy, having been stretched by lawmakers to cover residential projects, projects near freight lines, projects outside the original geographic boundaries of the program and projects that are neither urban nor near train stations.
Imagine how high those eyebrows are going to go if a bill seeking to inject another $1 billion into the program is passed.
We understand the complaints of people who say this is corporate welfare, and agree that it seems overly generous to approve hundreds of millions of dollars to already wildly successful companies like Panasonic and Prudential Financial. But this program is just as much about urban infill development as it is jobs. It’ll be hard to complain a few years down the road when a city like Newark suddenly has a handful of trophy-quality office towers in the downtown. That’s critical new ratables for cities in more desperate need of a comeback than Tom Brady last week — but just as important, it’s more people stopping by T.M. Ward’s for a cup of joe on the way in, more people buying lunch at Hobby’s, and more seats filled at NJPAC and the Prudential Center.
The program’s price tag is high, but so is the investment these companies are making in urban centers, and we’re particularly pleased that the Grow New Jersey component, which got a paltry $200 million set-aside, will be doubled in size, since our major complaint with Urban Transit Hub is the rather arbitrary decision to limit credits to projects in nine cities. Creating more incentives in other urban and suburban markets expands the pool of winners beyond just those cities.