Incentives Supporter Lesniak: No More Economic Aid Until Christie Provides Report

NJBIZ — Thursday, May 7, 2015

By Andrew George

Joined by New Jersey Working Families Director Analilia Mejia (left) and New Jersey Citizen Action Director of Organizing and Development Dena Mottola Jaborska, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) speaks Thursday at the Statehouse. - (ANDREW GEORGE)

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak plans to introduce a bill that would call for a moratorium on the state's economic incentive programs until Gov. Chris Christie's administration produces a missing analytical report detailing their efficacy.

The Unified Economic Development Budget Report, as it is known, would come from the state Treasurer's office and is currently required under a 2007 law. The report, however, has never been delivered to the Office of Legislative Services, according to Lesniak (D-Union).

"I don't think Gov. Christie has ever been restrained in not following the law," Lesniak said when questioned why the report has never been issued under the administration's watch.

Lesniak championed 2013's Economic Opportunity Act, which streamlined the state's existing incentive offerings into two highly competitive programs, and has remains a vocal supporter of their use.

That said, Lesniak wants the administration to fulfill its duty to examine the programs.

"I hope the moratorium never has to go into effect," Lesniak said.

Lesniak's bill would also include a reform to the net benefits test conducted by the Economic Development Authority that is used to determine the viability of a project seeking state incentives.

Though incentivized companies usually only have an obligation of 15 years to the state, the EDA often quantifies a project's net benefit back to the state, which must yield positive revenues, over 30- and 35-year periods. Lesniak's bill would match the two, decreasing the number of years needed to satisfy the net benefits test to the number of years a company is obligated to the state.

Since 2010, the EDA has approved over $5 billion in incentives.

"This is crucial legislation at a crucial time," said Gordon MacInnes, president of liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.

Lesniak said he believes his bill would garner bipartisan support. He noted that he was not familiar with a measure included in a 36-bill economic growth package put forth by Senate Republicans last month that calls for the establishment of an "Office of Economic Research" within the state's Business Action Center to examine and analyze incentive programs.

Analilia Mejia, director for New Jersey Working Families, joined Lesniak at the news conference but disagreed with his overall positive stance on the incentive programs.

"It is time to take a break," Mejia said. "It is time to put the brakes on what we call just a runaway train of giveaways."

Regardless, she said she hopes a moratorium would at least allow for the state to "take a moment and figure out if New Jersey is really getting a return on its investment" and "stop the bleeding."

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