N.J. judge rules against Norcross, allows tax incentive report released

Cooper University Hospital board chairman George Norcross III listens in Camden, N.J., Tuesday, May 15, 2012, during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Cooper Cancer Institute. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Cooper University Hospital board chairman George Norcross III listens in Camden, N.J., Tuesday, May 15, 2012, during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Cooper Cancer Institute. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

A New Jersey task force examining the state’s tax break programs said special interests had an outsized role in writing the 2013 law that significantly expanded incentives for companies.

It also found that the Economic Development Authority did not have proper oversight over the program, which has awarded around $11 billion to attract businesses in the state.

The task force convened by Gov. Phil Murphy released its first report Monday night after a New Jersey judge ruled to allow the investigation to continue and the report to be published.

A lawsuit brought by South Jersey businessman and Democratic power broker George Norcross alleged that Murphy had no legal authority to create the task force or investigate the EDA, which Norcross’s attorneys argued had some measure of independence.

Kevin Marino, an attorney for Norcross, argued in court Monday that the task force was operating unfairly.

“That’s not an investigative body. That’s an accusatory body. That’s a grand jury proceeding but being done in the public square,” Marino said.

Yet lawyers for the task force reiterated the governor’s right to investigate the EDA, which is part of the Treasury, and criticized the plaintiffs.

“They don’t want the report to come out. They don’t want the report to be issued,” said attorney Ted Wells.

Murphy put together the task force in January to investigate whether businesses that received the awards complied with the program’s requirements and whether the EDA administered the program correctly.

Norcross’s insurance firm — Conner, Strong, and Buckelew — received an $86 million tax break to move to Camden. The Cooper Health System, of which Norcross is board chair, got a $40 million incentive.

A WNYC/ProPublica investigation found that companies with ties to the South Jersey power broker received $1.1 billion in tax incentives from the state.

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