N.J. lawmakers push through $11.5 billion tax break overhaul, to the chagrin of advocates

The capital dome is seen at the New Jersey Statehouse. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

The capital dome is seen at the New Jersey Statehouse. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Just two days after it was introduced, lawmakers in both the state Senate and Assembly held simultaneous hearings Friday on a 219-page bill that would overhaul New Jersey’s tax incentive system and allocate up to $11.5 billion to the effort over the next six years.

The hearings came a year and a half after the previous tax break programs elapsed, following an investigation by a state task force that found that New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority lacked oversight, and that companies may have misled regulators on their applications.

“Only in New Jersey can we take too long and move too quickly at the same time,” said State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon Jr., R-Monmouth.

Gov. Phil Murphy and leaders in the Democrat-controlled legislature announced they had reached a deal on the legislation Tuesday, and the bill was published online the following day. Friday’s concurrent hearings were the first chance for the public to weigh in.

“Best practices and sound research were tossed aside to get this done before the end of the year,” said Sheila Reynertson, senior policy analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective. “No one had the courage to say, ‘We’ve gone too far.’”

Lawmakers on Friday also announced a litany of amendments to the legislation, which was scheduled for full floor votes in both the Senate and Assembly on Monday — less than a week after it was introduced.

Democratic lawmakers behind the proposals, however, argued that there was no rush job but rather a lengthy, behind-the-scenes effort by both the legislative and executive branches.

They pointed to a number of improvements over the state’s previous tax incentive programs in the new legislation, including an overall cap on the amount of tax breaks, stronger oversight of companies, and a focus on underrepresented communities.

“I don’t want anybody to think on this call or to the public that we are rushing anything here,” Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said during the virtual hearing. “There’s been a lot of thought, and a lot of what was recommended by this task force are being developed in this legislation.”

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