Assembly panel to target NJ economic woes

The News Leader

October 3, 2010 9:19:34 AM PDT
A special state Assembly panel will meet this week to discuss ways to revive New Jersey's economy and create jobs.

Details regarding Thursday's hearing remained a work in progress on Sunday, partly because plans for the session only began developing late Friday afternoon, Democratic leaders said.

It's also not clear yet how many lawmakers will be part of the panel.

Republican leaders say they have received few details on the newly formed panel and how it will operate. They also question why the hearing was scheduled when more pressing issues - specifically property tax issues - need to be addressed.

Speaker Sheila Oliver says Democratic and Republican members of six committees - budget, commerce and economic development, financial institutions and insurance, labor, telecommunications and utilities and transportation - will be asked to serve on the panel.

Also invited are economic development officials from Gov. Chris Christie's administration and business leaders from across the state.

Oliver said she decided to form the panel and call the hearing after the Assembly failed Thursday to override Christie's veto of legislation to create a homebuyer tax credit program. It would have provided up to $15,000 in tax credits for buyers of new or existing homes at a cost of $33 million per year for three years.

Christie vetoed the measure and two others in late July, saying it would be irresponsible to approve additional expenses the state cannot afford. But proponents claim the investment would have paid for itself many times over by putting building trades employees back to work and generating additional sales and income tax revenue.

"Since (the tax credit) failed to receive necessary support, we need to continue focusing on other ways to create and retain jobs to benefit working class residents and our businesses," Oliver said.

Republicans and Christie administration officials said the legislature should be focusing on the state's highest-in-the-nation property taxes and the so-called "tool kit" reforms that the governor has proposed to help control costs. They say those reforms are needed to support recently enacted legislation that caps local spending and property tax increases at 2 percent.

"Democrats and Republicans (in New Jersey) seem to be living in parallel universes, which is unfortunate because these important matters are not being addressed," Assembly Republican Conference Leader Jon Bramnick said Sunday. "Lets convene the Assembly as committee of the whole and discuss the ideas the governor has asked us to discuss in an open session. We can see what we agree on, and if we differ we can talk until we come to a possible compromise, then vote it up or down."

Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, voiced similar views.

"It's hard to understand why Democrats - especially in the Assembly - can't focus on property tax relief and the tool kit bills. That's what Speaker Oliver claimed as a priority when the Legislature passed the (property tax) cap in July," Drewniak said.

"Months later, the public is waiting and still nothing is getting done in the Assembly on property tax relief. The 2 percent cap needs the support of the tool kit bills. Everyone knows that, Speaker Oliver knows that. So why not hold hearings on the bills?"

Oliver says Thursday's hearing will compliment efforts of the Legislature's Business Task Force, which will craft reforms to make the state more business-friendly.

She hopes several topics will be addressed at the hearing, including: - Tax breaks and incentives for businesses that can help promote business expansion and create jobs.

- Determine what rules and regulations are most burdensome to businesses, and whether corporate governance laws need tweaking to make New Jersey more competitive with neighboring states.

- Find ways to control health insurance costs that burden businesses and employees.

- How to promote jobs in the renewable energy or green jobs industry.

- What role tourism can play in an economic recovery.

"My hope is (the hearing) will be the first step toward creating an innovative economic development plan that will reposition New Jersey as the nation's leading economic force," Oliver said.