Speaker’s Council: Lowering the state’s sales tax, providing incentives to forgive debt and more – these are ideas worth talking about

    The ideas come fast and furiously — and from all angles. Everything from lowering the New Jersey’s sales tax to streamlining infrastructure projects, to providing tax incentives to banks and landlords that forgive bills, to easing linen-changing legislation. It’s thorough.

    But know these two things about the document produced by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s Economic Advisory Council: They were created after lengthy discussions among some of the smartest and most successful business leaders and advocates in the state — and they’re only asking for elected officials to debate and discuss what they came up with.

    The 21-page report — which came with a 16-page appendix of additional ideas that aren’t in the report — was presented to Coughlin by chair George Zoffinger late last week.



    Zoffinger hopes that’s just the first step.

    “It is very important to me and to the other people on our committee that this is looked at as a non-controversial set of recommendations that can be considered by the powers that be,” Zoffinger told ROI-NJ. “We know that there will be people who agree and there will be people who disagree, but we think it’s a good starting point to discussing what kind of things could be done.

    “These are suggestions that need to be debated at the Assembly and Senate levels — and at the governor’s level.”

    The Assembly, state Senate and the Murphy administration would be well advised to give it a read.

    Debate — especially one with a diversity of opinion — is healthy. And as we move forward as a state, more voices need to be heard. Executive orders help in a crisis when quick decisions are needed. That’s not the case now.

    And these ideas are not just coming from Average Joe’s. These are some of the state’s top leaders.

    Consider just the chairs: Former Attorney General Peter Harvey (banking, legal, accounting, public safety and housing); Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway (education); NJBIA’s Chrissy Buteas (economic development); Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac (government); Hackensack Meridian Health’s Kenny Esser (health care); American Water’s Cheryl Norton (infrastructure, manufacturing and labor); Edgewood PropertiesRWJBarnabas Health; the Hard Rock’s Jack Morris (retail and tourism); and Community Food Bank of NJ’s Carlos Rodriguez (social services).

    Committee members include household names such as Tony Coscia, Christiana Foglio, Chris Paladino, John Harmon, Luis De La Hoz, Amy Mansue, Debbie Hart and Bill Mullen, among a host of others.

    Assembly chair George Zoffinger.

    Zoffinger said the council not only had to balance competing interests — but do so while recognizing that the New Jersey’s financial picture is bleak. That’s why, Zoffinger said, they limited the number of ideas that would cost revenue, including reducing the state income tax and/or having tax holidays.

    “We didn’t want to recommend a lot of things that were just going to cost money,” he said. “But the committee thought that it was worthwhile to suggest them.

    “What we hope is that the Assembly and the Senate will take a look at them. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We just want them to debate the issue.”

    There were two issues Zoffinger hopes are above debate.

    For starters, he feels the need to help small businesses — which he defined as those with less than 50 employees — is essential, whether it comes from the state backing more small business loans or more grant programs.

    “These are the people that really are in danger of going out of business,” he said. “They need to be helped.”

    They obviously aren’t the only ones. Zoffinger said they may not be at the front of the line. The need to help underserved communities is vital, he said.

    “The impact has been most devastating on the lowest economic neighborhoods,” he said.

    That’s why a six-month real estate voucher subsidy program is in the report, too.

    “Some people may say that may not be enough,” he said.

    Zoffinger’s OK with that. He’s OK with any criticism. In fact, he’s OK with anything — as long as it gets people talking.

    That’s why the council produced a report. Something Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Commission will not do, administration officials have said.

    Of course, a report can only go so far.

    Zoffinger has been around the state long enough to know that a number of well-meaning and well-thought-out blue-ribbon reports — such as the Healey-Byrne report on state pensions and benefits — are simply gathering dust.

    That’s why Zoffinger said he has presented the council’s findings with no expectations. Just hope.

    “All we’re doing is saying that we got together, we did a lot of hard work and came up with these recommendations,” he said. “Some people will like them; some people won’t like them.

    “It’s our hope that people will take a hard look at them, debate them, and if they work for New Jersey, implement them.”

    A look at the members of the Council


    • George R. Zoffinger, Chairman of the New Brunswick Economic Development Corporation

    Committee Members and Chairs:

    Banking, Legal, Accounting, Public Safety, and Housing

    • Peter Harvey, Partner at Patterson Belkap (Chair)
    • Tony Coscia, Partner at Windels Marx
    • Christiana Foglio, President & CEO of Community Investment Strategies, Inc.
    • Steve Guidette, Executive Vice President of Business Banking at Provident Bank
    • Paul Vecchione, Principal, International Planning Alliance, LLC


    • Dr. Jonathan Holloway, Incoming President, Rutgers University (Chair)
    •  Kyle Anderson, Interim Executive County Superintendent, Middlesex County
    • Mark Finkelstein, Vice Chair, Middlesex County College Board of Trustees
    • Economic Development
    • Chrissy Buteas, Chief Government Affairs Officer, NJBIA (Chair)
    •  Luis De La Hoz, Chairman, Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
    • John Harmon, Founder, President & CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce
    • Dr. James Hughes, University Professor, Rutgers University
    • Valerie Montecalvo, President, Bayshore Recycling
    • Christopher Paladino, President, New Brunswick Development Corporation
    • Dr. Carl Van Horn, Director, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce
    • Peter Visceglia, Owner & Operator, Federal Business Centers


    • John McCormac, Mayor of Woodbridge Mayor (Chair)
    • Theresa Berger, Mayor of Howell

    Health care

    • Ken Esser, Senior Vice President & Chief of Staff for Corporate Services, Governance & Government Relations, Hackensack Meridian Health (Chair)
    • Dr. Andrew Brooks, Chief Operating Officer & Director of Technology, RUCDR Infinite Biologics
    • Amy Mansue, Vice President & Chief Experience Officer, RWJ Barnabas Health (incoming CEO, Inspira Health)
    • Dom Pelligrino, Bridgeway Senior Health Services Jon Resnick, President, IQVIA

    Infrastructure, Manufacturing, & Labor

    • Cheryl Norton, President, New Jersey American Water (Chair)
    • Debbie Hart, President & CEO of BioNJ
    • Jack Kocsis, CEO, Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey
    • Bill Mullen, President, New Jersey State Building & Construction Trades
    • Charlie Wowkanech, President, New Jersey AFL-CIO

    Retail and Tourism

    • Jack Morris, Founder & CEO, Edgewater Properties, Co-Owner, Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City & Board Chair, RWJ Barnabas Health (Chair)
    • Amy Bellisano, Senior General Manager, Brookefield Properties
    • Vicki Clark, Board Chair, New Jersey Tourism Association
    • Marilou Halvorsen, President & CEO, New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association
    • Joe Maurillo, Owner & Operator, Nanina’s in the Park

    Social Services

    • Carlos Rodriguez, President & CEO, Community Food Bank of New Jersey (Chair)
    • Rose Cushing, President & CEO YMCA of Metuchen, Woodbridge, South Amboy
    • Dena Mottola-Jaborska, Associate Director, New Jersey Citizen Action
    • Rev. Louise Scott- Rountree, Aide for Clergy Affairs for New Mayor Ras Baraka

    Legal Counsel

    • Genova Burns LLC
    • James M. Burns, Esq.
    • Rebecca Moll Freed, Esq.
    • Maria R. Fruci, Esq.