N.J. comptroller says corporate tax incentive program may not be broken after all

FILE- This April 10, 2018, file photo shows a part of the skyline in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

FILE- This April 10, 2018, file photo shows a part of the skyline in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has been slamming the state’s tax break program after an audit showed that companies were receiving incentives — possibly without meeting the benchmarks in their agreements.

But in testimony before the state Legislature Monday, the state comptroller assured lawmakers that the much-discussed audit did not prove that any companies violated their pacts to create or retain jobs.

It only showed, according to Comptroller Philip Degnan, that the state’s Economic Development Authority failed to ensure that some businesses were in compliance.

“That is, in my opinion, a very different conclusion than the job did not exist or was not created,” Degnan said.

The audit by Degnan’s office found that, in a sample of 48 companies currently receiving tax breaks, the EDA failed to verify whether 20 percent of the jobs were created or retained per the agreements.

In a January press conference on the audit,  Murphy criticized the EDA’s lack of oversight. “The money just flowed from taxpayers’ pockets into a black hole,” he said.

Yet, on Monday, Degnan tamped down fears that the $11 billion tax incentive program was rife with abuse.

“The EDA did not do enough to confirm the data,” he said, regarding the authority’s oversight of ongoing incentive agreements. “Those jobs may exist. They may not exist.”

Degnan claimed it would be improper for him to disclose the list of the 48 companies whose incentive agreements his office scrutinized, saying he was concerned the businesses may be in compliance with their agreements yet face undue public scrutiny because the EDA did not do its job.

Murphy wants to overhaul the program by capping the amount the state can award and strengthening accountability measures.

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