Corporate tax breaks get speedy approval without fair wage guarantees

Republican Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey has provided more corporate tax breaks in the three years under Republican Governor Chris Christie than it did in the entire previous decade.

STATE — A bill packed with tax breaks for corporations and developers was sent bill back to Legislature because the Republican governor does not like that it would guarantee fair wages for some employees of firms that take advantage of government subsidies.

Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 (A3680), demanding that lawmakers remove from the sweeping legislation provisions that would guarantee fair wages for custodians and construction workers, and the Assembly concurred with the governor’s recommendations by a vote of 70-6 the same day.

Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said Christie missed an opportunity to improve flawed legislation.

“There were plenty of ways the governor could have used his veto pen to make this reform of New Jersey’s business tax subsidy programs stronger, smarter and more effective,” MacInnes said. “Instead, he used his veto power to remove one of the few positive elements of the legislation: a prevailing wage standard that would have ensured that the New Jersey tax dollars invested in these subsidy projects help a wider array of workers. What the governor has done is take a bad piece of legislation and make it even worse.”

The bill has gone through a number of changes during the legislative process, growing from 47 to 82 pages and even losing the support of its Senate sponsor, but it appears likely to become law.

Assemblyman Al Coutinho (D-Essex), the bill’s sponsor in the lower house, said that the Legislature would probably concur with the changes and return the bill (A3680) back to Christie for his signature.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) indicated he wanted to remove a requirement that 20 percent of units in subsidized residential projects be designated as affordable housing, but Christie did not accommodate him, even though he was the bill’s Senate sponsor.

The bill was originally intended to overhaul New Jersey’s economic incentives, combine five subsidies into two programs intended to lure new employers and keep current jobs in the state while lifting some limits on the amount of taxpayer money available for corporations and developers.

Development interests maneuvered behind closed doors and a revised version of the bill erased many of the environmental constraints and smart growth principles that protect sensitive areas in the Pinelands and Highlands, according to Elliott Ruga, a senior policy analyst for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition..

Ruga said a long list of opponents either question the bill’s fairness or the effectiveness of its incentives to retain or attract business, or to create jobs. Among those critics are New Jersey Future, New Jersey Working Families Alliance, and Good Jobs First; as well as New Jersey Policy Perspective and Rutgers University.

Poverty in New Jersey reached a 52-year high in 2011, according , according to a new report by Legal Services of New Jersey, while the state’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate remains higher than the national rate of 7.3 and nearly double the 4.6 jobless rate recorded at the start of the Great Recession.

Since the start of 2010, when Republican Governor Chris Christie took office, the state has awarded $2.1 billion in corporate tax subsidies, compared to $1.25 billion for the previous 10 years, according to a report released in April by New Jersey Policy Perspective.

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