Public gets turn to talk N.J. tax credits at next hearing

The public will get its chance to weigh in on New Jersey's business tax incentive drama that led to the program's expiration earlier this month.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

The public will get its chance to weigh in on New Jersey’s business tax incentive drama that led to the program’s expiration earlier this month.

A task force investigating tax credits set up by Gov. Phil Murphy is set to hold its third hearing on Monday. The public is invited to testify about the programs that have been at the center of a political and policy disagreement in New Jersey’s Democrat-led state government.

Tax credits enacted under a 2013 bill expired on July 1, and Murphy and lawmakers have disagreed over how to move forward.

But the task force also concluded that special interests helped write the legislation to benefit stakeholders.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

A closer look at the status of the state’s tax credits:

What’s happening?

The tax incentives may have expired, but they’re taking center stage now that the state budget has been enacted.

Monday’s meeting will be the task force’s third since Murphy formed the group in January — but it’s the first at which the public is invited to testify.

The first and second hearings had revelations that made waves. At one hearing, a whistleblower testified that an unidentified firm she worked for said it was considering leaving the state in order to get credits when she knew the company had already decided to stay.

The second hearing turned up documents showing that firms connected with influential Democratic political powerbroker George Norcross gave inconsistent responses while applying for credits when asked whether they considered leaving the state, a key requirement in most cases for being awarded credits.

That led to Norcross suing Murphy and also petitioning a judge to block the task force’s interim report. The judge disagreed, and the report came out.

The report concluded that special interests, particularly those linked to Norcross, helped write the legislation to benefit stakeholders, who later did benefit. Norcross disputes the findings and has suggested the task force amounts to a political witch hunt.

The task force report was not the only indication of trouble surrounding the credits. A comptroller report in 2019 said the Economic Development Authority, which oversees the credits, couldn’t verify whether all requirements were being met before awards were made. An auditor’s report in 2017 raised similar concerns.

What are officials doing?

Lawmakers sent Murphy a six-month extension of the tax incentive programs, but the governor has vowed to veto it. The bill’s sponsors and backers say they want the time to help come up with a successor program and don’t want the state to be at a disadvantage compared to neighboring states.

Murphy says he won’t endorse an extension and instead proposed a new program that caps awards, among other changes.

The Legislature is also set to hold its own hearings on the incentives, though the first hearing was postponed.

Within the administration, treasury officials said they were “alarmed” at how little oversight previous administrations had over the sale of tax credits among businesses, which is allowed by law. Officials said they set up an online system to monitor the sales, which cover about 70% of credits awarded.

What’s next?

The path forward is murky.

Murphy said last week that he was “optimistic” he could find common ground with legislators “sooner rather than later,” but his relationship with Senate President Steve Sweeney, in particular, is frosty. The pair clashed during the budget over taxes, and Sweeney is a close friend of Norcross.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal