Seeking ‘more of the same’ from Christie

On eve of State of State, industry wants more reform

Jessica Perry//January 9, 2012

Seeking ‘more of the same’ from Christie

On eve of State of State, industry wants more reform

Jessica Perry//January 9, 2012

As Gov. Chris Christie prepares Tuesday’s State of the State address, New Jersey’s business leaders are hoping the state continues to follow through on the agenda the governor has laid out over his first two years in office.

“What we really want to see in general is more of the same,” said Melanie Willoughby, senior vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “We feel that the state is heading in the right direction under Governor Christie, and that he has done what he said he was going to do.”

At the top of this agenda is the continuation of a series of business tax cuts Christie signed this year.

The tax cuts include shifting the basis of the sales tax to a single sales factor, and allowing business owners who report business income as personal income to apply losses to offset future tax liability.

While the tax cuts equal $185 million in the current fiscal year, they are expected to be phased in, totaling more than $600 million in three years.

“The fact that he had two budgets that did not raise taxes has also changed the perception of New Jersey to business — both in the state and out of the state,” Willoughby said. “It also, we believe, puts us in good position for an economic uptick.”

A main item of interest to the NJBIA is Christie’s plans for strengthening higher education, with the association backing new state incentives to build ties between businesses and higher education. That’s “very important for the building of partnerships” in research and development between high-tech companies and universities, she said.

In addition, businesses are interested in the governor’s education reform plans, with an eye toward strengthening students’ preparedness in science, technology, engineering and math.

Laurie Ehlbeck, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said members of her group would like to see Christie maintain his approach to cutting regulations. She hopes such efforts will build on the Regulatory Flexibility Act expansion that was advancing at the end of the legislative session in January.

Ehlbeck said Christie’s agenda and that of small businesses are aligned.

“We’re behind the governor’s proposals of continued reform of both the unemployment insurance fund and state pension and benefit reform,” Ehlbeck said. “We’re actually looking closely at what the governor has to say about state education reform” in this week’s address.

New Jersey Retail Merchants Association President John Holub said retailers are looking for further action on issues ranging from the very broad — like advancing corporation business tax reform, particularly lower tax rates — to the specific. This category includes “e-fairness,” the effort to bring the sales tax to online merchants.

“We’re hopeful that we continue on the course that we have been for the past years,” Holub said. “Business issues have been a priority for not only the administration, but the Legislature. They may not have always agreed on how to get from point A to point B,” but business issues have remained at the forefront for both.

Thomas A. Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said Christie’s speech is important for setting the tone for the coming year. “Everything I’m hearing is that there’s growing optimism,” Bracken said. “To take it from optimism to reality, people just have to understand that there are bigger and better things to come.”

Bracken said he expects more specifics of Christie’s agenda for 2012 to emerge after the speech. “He’s followed through on what he said he would do when he was elected,” Bracken said. “Sometimes he’s given a tough message to people, and it’s antagonized people — but you know what? If you’re going to have results, you can’t have the status quo.”

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