Senate tax break task force to hold first meeting Monday

Senate committee armed with subpoena power is holding its first meeting next week to gauge what types of economic incentives should replace the controversial corporate tax break programs that expired on July 1 .

The Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth Strategies will meet at 10 a.m. on July 29 in Statehouse Annex Room 4 in Trenton, according to committee chair Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District.

The full roster of who will appear that day is not immediately available. The committee has no current plans to subpoena anyone for this coming meeting, Smith added.

The committee previously planned to meet in June, but agreed to shelve the hearing and focus on budget negotiations.

Tim Sullivan, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority, which oversees the incentive programs, is expected to testify, according to an EDA spokesperson.

Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak – a Democrat – and former state Sen. Joe Kyrillos – a Republican – are also expected to testify. Both played a hand in the 2013 legislation that created the most recent version of the incentives, known as the multibillion-dollar Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks.

Another incentive program also expired on July 1, the Economic Redevelopment and Growth gap financing program to residential projects.

“Our jobs – the committee’s job – is to come up with recommendations on the future of the program,” Smith told NJBIZ. “At the end of that we’re going to hand legislative recommendations to the leadership about how the program should be changed – whether or not it should [continue].”

Legislative leadership sent Gov. Phil Murphy a bill to extend both programs for seven months, but the governor instead let the program expire and vowed to veto the extension measure. He instead wants to implement a set of five new incentive programs capped at $400 million a year.

South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, who wrote a letter to lawmakers in June asking for the chance to testify, is not currently slated to appear next week, according to Smith.

“It will be given due consideration just like anybody else who wants to testify,” he said.

The South Jersey figure has been at the center of a task force Murphy put together in January to scrutinize Grow NJ and ERG.

Over the course of three meetings and a bombshell report, the task force has alleged evidence that businesses with close ties to Norcross may have unfairly and unethically won hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for staying in, or moving to, Camden or the state. Those businesses and allies either crafted the law to benefit themselves, omitted disqualifying information from their applications, or provided bogus data about ultimately false plans to move out of the state if they did not win the incentives, according to evidence the task force presented.

Norcross argued in his June letter that his appearance “will allow me to correct the factual inaccuracies, gross misstatements and misleading information” that the task force presented about those companies,” including insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew where he is an executive.

That firm and “other Camden firms” were “denied the opportunity to participate,” in the governor’s task force.

A spokesperson for Norcross would not comment on his potential appearance next week.

Read the full article from NJ BIZ here.