Five steps N.J.’s leaders must take to deal with EDA controversy

File photo New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken was among those who appeared.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority and tax incentive programs have served New Jersey well, and they are vital to our state’s competitiveness and economic future.

Gov. Phil Murphy has been saying his initiatives to create a fairer economy, such as a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, etc., are making New Jersey a national leader in progressive policies and in creating a fairer economy.

The governor must now set his sights on making New Jersey’s economic incentive programs the best in the nation, so New Jersey can have the stronger economy he promised.

The endless attacks by many groups on the EDA, its programs and incentive recipients need to stop.

The governor needs to manage the controversy surrounding the EDA. He needs to focus on solving any problems that exist and move on to create an even more effective organization that will enhance our economic progress.

The chaos and upheaval surrounding the EDA do not serve New Jersey well.

Businesses thinking of moving or expanding into our state are monitoring what is done and said in Trenton. They cannot feel reassured.

New Jersey is a high-cost, high-tax state and we cannot compete without economic incentive programs such as those offered by the EDA.

There is much at stake here. Now is the time for everyone to take a breath and look for solutions.

Let’s put aside partisanship. It is time for sane and thoughtful action.

Here is what I believe our state leaders need to do, and do quickly. Time is of the essence because the business programs administered by the EDA expire June 30.

  1. Tone down the rhetoric. It is time to think about what is best for New Jersey.
  2. The Legislature should separate the budget process from the economic incentives process as suggested by Assembly Budget Chair Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark). The budget must be approved by June 30. That is not nearly enough time to have a healthy debate or address the many questions involved in extending existing incentive programs or crafting new ones.
  3. Conduct a best practices review of other states offering incentive programs, and determine the best ways to craft and administer a “best-in-class” incentive program.
  4. The governor should employ the same approach with the EDA as he proposed for the state’s Energy Master Plan this week. He said the plan has been delayed because, “We want to bring in more stakeholders. We want to make sure that everybody who wants to contribute and wants to have a voice in this gets a seat at the table.” This is a great way to ensure the end product is embraced by businesses inside and outside our state.
  5. Give the EDA’s new chairman, Kevin Quinn, and CEO, Tim Sullivan, the support and the tools they need to more effectively monitor the incentive programs and the job growth component related to EDA programs. Let’s make everything as transparent as possible with pristine compliance policies.

If we are going to strengthen New Jersey’s economy and make our state more affordable and more competitive, we need the EDA to continue to attract new business, new companies and new jobs to the state.

Tom Bracken is CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, based in Trenton.

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