Sweeney announces EDA incentive committee in Senate, noting it’s bipartisan (4 Dems, 3 GOP)

Anjalee Khemlani/ROI-NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney met with the ROI-NJ Editorial Board on Wednesday.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney announced the members of his bipartisan committee to analyze the state’s tax incentive programs, which are administrated by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, in a statement Wednesday.

The committee was established last week by a Senate resolution and is in response to a controversy over a task force established by the governor earlier this year. Sweeney’s committee includes four Democrats and three Republicans.

A task force established by Gov. Phil Murphy has been criticized by Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and others as being biased.

Its second hearing, which focused on Camden companies, led to not only a war of words, but a lawsuit.

The task force members, along with the EDA and Murphy, became defendants in a lawsuit filed by South Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross, whose business and philanthropic interests, and his brother’s law firm, came under fire at the hearing.

Sweeney said the work of the committee he has formed will include reviewing the EDA tax incentive programs, two of which are set to expire at the end of June, and getting “a true account of the aspects of each program that were successful or unsuccessful and how these programs may be improved in the future.”

The governor’s task force, which originally began with a similar forward-looking goal, has not been able to conduct its review and analysis in time for the sunsetting programs.

Sweeney said he could not say for sure if the new incentives proposed by the governor, which are still pending a response from the Legislature, would pass before the Grow New Jersey and Economic Redevelopment & Growth programs expire.

This would pose a problem for a state with a bad business climate, Sweeney said.

“New Jersey has been able to attract and retain major corporations in spite of its reputation of being a high cost state for business,” Sweeney said in a statement.

“While the labor talent continues to be our most attractive quality, sometimes it takes more ‘incentive’ to attract and retain business. Over the last several decades, the state has attracted major sports team training facilities, including the New York Jets and the Philadelphia 76ers; we have attracted major pharmaceutical companies, such as Bayer; and grown food companies, like Unilever and Pinnacle.

“Over the years, the NJEDA has had tremendous leadership from the likes of Tony Coscia, Al Koeppe, Carl Van Horn, Larry Downes and, of course, Caren Franzini. However, as of late, the mission of the NJEDA as well as its integrity has come under enormous scrutiny without any specific company or award having been cited. This special committee will evaluate the quality and integrity of existing programs and make recommendations to improve the state’s competitiveness and the oversight of the entire incentive process.”

In an unrelated interview Wednesday with ROI-NJ, Sweeney said the committee members were chosen to represent southern, central and northern Jersey, and were chosen in coordination with Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield).

The committee members are:

  • Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway), chair;
  • Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood), vice chair;
  • Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Medford);
  • Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph);
  • Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden);
  • Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus);
  • Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Holmdel).

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