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Legislative hearings into N.J. tax incentives will be unlike ‘slanted’ task force

New Jersey State Capitol building in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

New Jersey State Capitol building in Trenton. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

This article originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

As political tensions continue to rise over the future of New Jersey’s corporate tax-incentive programs, and the Murphy administration’s ongoing investigative task force, lawmakers say they will launch their own in-depth review of the state’s economic development policies and the Trenton-based agency that administers them.

The stated goal of a series of upcoming legislative hearings that were announced last week is to give lawmakers an opportunity to evaluate what’s been working and where improvements could be made to the tax-incentive programs that were established nearly six years ago.

But after a state comptroller’s audit and gubernatorial task force investigation have raised serious questions about the Economic Development Authority’s handling of the incentive programs — including uncovering possible criminal conduct — the hearings will also give legislative leaders who have adopted a more sympathetic view of the programs than the reform-minded Gov. Phil Murphy a chance to paint them in a more favorable light.

In fact, in announcing the hearings last week, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told reporters that Murphy’s task force has been “slanted” and that lawmakers need to get a more rounded story, including how the incentive programs have helped communities throughout the state in the wake of the Great Recession.

“We want to get to the bottom of everything,” Sweeney said. “See what’s right and what’s wrong.”

The Assembly will follow a similar course, according to Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), with its own set of hearings. They will “fairly examine” the current programs, which are up for renewal at the end of June, he said.

“It is obvious that the Legislature needs clarity in terms of how the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is doing business,” Coughlin said.

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