Business association leaders view State of State address with skepticism

State chamber’s Bracken on attack on EDA: 'It isn’t even our biggest problem'

By Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Jan 15, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s first State of the State address was met with skepticism from the state’s business community.

File photo
Michele Siekerka of the NJBIA.

Going after the state Economic Development Authority and spending a significant portion of his speech Tuesday in Trenton on the audit that showed issues with the system of tax incentives in the state was a bit over the top, some said.

“It isn’t even our biggest problem,” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken told ROI-NJ.

Bracken said going after an institution such as the EDA, and its incentives — which have been seen as one of the things New Jersey did right to attract businesses in recent years — could stop companies from looking at the state if the governor continues to “rip into it,” he said.

Bracken added that there were obvious problems and issues that needed addressing, but going after the EDA and incentives for so long in his speech was “over the top.”

New Jersey Business & Industry Association CEO and President Michele Siekerka said she feels other issues will impact economic development more than EDA programs.

“New Jersey is in a fiscal crisis and needs structural reform, first and foremost,” she said in a statement. “It is critical that we focus on controlling state spending, instead of increasing costs on our job creators.

“Unsustainable spending hampers the state’s ability to make investments in infrastructure, higher education and economic development — all of which are essential to attracting and retaining businesses.”

Siekerka said creating an innovation economy cannot happen without fixing the tax structure.

File photo
John Harmon of the AACCNJ.

“We learned yesterday that our corporate business taxes are up 61 percent for 2018,” she said. “It is this kind of tax structure and climate that will dissuade investment and make us continue to struggle in this sector in the region.

“We maintain that state tax incentive programs for business of all sizes should be transparent and appropriately monitored, but also an important strategy to make New Jersey competitive and affordable.”

John Harmon, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, said that, while the governor made some good points on the wealth gap and workforce disparities, there was little said about how to change the cycle of underprepared and undertrained workers in certain minority groups.

More work needs to be done, “but the devil is in the details,” Harmon said.

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Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem