The state’s top lawmaker said he would prefer the Senate committee he put together to scrutinize the state’s corporate tax breaks not use the subpoena power and instead convince businesses, government officials and other individuals to appear voluntarily at a hearing planned for June 24.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s remarks, made in an hour-long meeting with NJBIZ editors and writers, came with the incentive program in question – the multi-billion dollar Grow New Jersey tax breaks – set to expire on July 1, and amid conflicting proposals about what should replace those incentives.
“We’re going to do hearings, we’re not going to start with subpoenas, but we’ll issue them if necessary,” the senator said. The Economic Development Authority – tasked with overseeing Grow NJ, will appear before the committee, as will businesses including those which were awarded tax breaks.
Sweeney also suggested that several companies tied to powerbroker George Norcross, and highlighted by an investigative task force appointed by Murphy as beneficiaries of Grow NJ, might appear before the committee.
These companies include Holtec International, insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew where Norcross is executive chairman; NFI; The Michaels Organization; Cooper University Health, where Norcross sits on the board; and Parker McCay the law firm George’s brother Philip runs and the professional home of lawyer Kevin Sheehan, who allegedly wrote parts of the Grow NJ bill to benefit Norcross-tied companies.
Most of the entities have pressed the Murphy administration for an opportunity to publicly make their case at the Murphy task force’s next hearing.
That hearing was in fact scheduled for June 11, and the group had planned to unveil its findings. That schedule was upended at the request of a Mercer County judge, after Norcross’ lawyers filed suit seeking to shut down the task force.
Financial services firms Jackson-Hewitt and World Business Leaders, both of which were cited by Murphy’s task force as having allegedly provided false information to improperly win tax breaks, could also appear before the committee.
“One business, Jackson-Hewitt, hasn’t responded [publicly], so maybe they did cheat,” Sweeney said. “The other business did an op-ed … said they created the jobs… maybe they’re innocent, I don’t know … but they defended themselves, there’s a way to find out the truth there.”
Jackson-Hewitt told NJBIZ it could not locate an invitation to appear at the June 24 senate hearing.
“Jackson-Hewitt has cooperated and will cooperate with any government inquiries into this matter, and believe we provided an accurate and comprehensive application to the EDA in compliance with state law,” a spokesperson for the company said.
Representatives for the EDA and WBL did not respond to requests for comment.
‘They perjured themselves’
Sweeney also criticized the testimony of Murphy administration staff members before a legislative committee investigating how the governor’s office handled rape allegations leveled by a former campaign aide.
“We’re hoping not to use it,” said Sweeney, D-3rd District, of the subpoena power. “But you just saw the Katie Brennan report where the administration came before us, and the people that testified under oath perjured themselves.” Brennan had accused another campaign worker of sexual assualt.
“The Governor’s Office provided an unprecedented level of transparency and cooperation with the Legislative Oversight Committee,” Murphy Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro said. “The Senate President’s comments don’t match the conclusions of either the Oversight Committee or the report issued by former Justice Verniero.”
“They perjured themselves, no one would admit to anything. [Matt] Platkin should be in real trouble because he really should have recused himself and he didn’t,” Sweeney said of the chief counsel for Gov. Phil Murphy’s office, who was highlighted in the report as one of the top administration officials who may have mishandled Brennan’s allegations.
Regarding Platkin, Alfaro pointed to testimony from Heather Taylor’s January 10 testimony to show, “that Mr. Platkin conferred with the Chief Ethics Officer regarding the matter and it was determined that ‘there was nothing to recuse Mr. Platkin from.’ “