Governor’s Office blames Sweeney for holdup on incentives, fears package won’t come to vote during lame duck session

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Dec 10, 2019 at 6:15 am

Officials in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration do not feel the governor’s proposed incentive plans will come up for a vote in the Legislature before the end of the lame duck legislative session on Jan. 14. And they place the blame for this on one man: state Senate President Steve Sweeney, sources told ROI-NJ.

“It takes two to tango,” one insider said. “It is unbelievable that, when the economy is this hot and interest rates are at record lows, that the state Senate president is unwilling to come to the table.

“We are ready to do a deal. Like, yesterday. We’ve had our bill drafted for 14 months. We’ve been incorporating changes from the Legislature for 10 of those 14 months. We just don’t understand what the holdup is, other than inflicting pain on the governor, which they are not doing. They’re trying to slow Gov. Murphy’s ability to go out there and recruit business and grow the economy.”

State Senate President Steve Sweeney said recently that “we’re not” close on an agreement.

The source, who is familiar with the negotiations, requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Representatives from the Senate president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Sweeney (D-West Deptford) made his opinion known publicly last Friday at a public policy forum sponsored by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

“When I read that we’re close, I’m sorry, but we’re not,” he said at the forum. “There’s points where I absolutely agree with the governor and am willing to work with him, but there are points where I’m not going to sacrifice my beliefs, because I want a strong program that creates investment.”

The disagreement could be deeper than just policy issues.

Sweeney and Murphy have both convened task forces to look into how the incentive programs have operated in the past.

One source said that should not hold up the incentives Murphy announced back in October 2018 — and they are only being used as an excuse to delay putting incentives up for a vote.

Another source, within the Legislature, said it is not working to hold off a vote. In fact, they said, the Legislature is working toward finding an agreement.

“Tax incentives come up at every meeting,” the person said. “This is a priority. It’s something that we have to get done.”

Gov. Phil Murphy announced his incentive plans in October 2018.

The source, like all others, requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discussion.

Murphy has proposed five incentive programs:

  • NJ Forward: a jobs-based program that will provide credits to companies engaged in high-growth industries, U.S. businesses creating a Northeast headquarters, foreign businesses creating a U.S.  headquarters and major job retention projects;
  • NJ Aspire: a program intended to catalyze investments in commercial, residential and mixed-use projects through a place-based gap financing program;
  • Brownfields Redevelopment Program: a program that will pair with the Economic Development Authority’s Brownfields Loan Program in an attempt to catalyze more remediation projects and increase job creation;
  • Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program: a program, modeled after the National Historic Tax Credit program, that is designed to partially reimburse developers who revitalize income-producing historic buildings;
  • Innovation Evergreen Fund: a fund designed to supercharge venture capital investment into Garden State startups.

Whether the programs will have caps, which will limit the amount of the awards that can be given, has been one sticking point. But, sources said, that is something that is open for negotiations.

The stalemate, another source said, is more than that. And it is causing frustration in the Governor’s Office.

“The governor wants to get out there and pitch business,” the person said. “It’s in his DNA. He’s salesman-in-chief.

“We have people lined up (to sponsor the legislation), but it doesn’t matter. The Senate president doesn’t want to do it.”