Three lawmakers want Urban Enterprise Zone program retained

TRENTON – Three Democratic lawmakers Tuesday called for preservation of the state Urban Enterprise Zone program.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, (D-20), Union, and Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan, (D-20), Union, joined their districtmate Assemblywoman Annette Quijano in opposing the imminent dismantling of the state’s  UEZ program under Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed FY 2012 budget.

 The 20th Legislative District is home to the UEZ municipalities of Elizabeth, Hillside, and Roselle, which house hundreds of participating small businesses, many of which are minority owned, the lawmakers said.

“It is important to review all state programs to ensure the efficient and most productive use of taxpayer dollars,” Lesniak said in a release. “But instead of just ending UEZs altogether, we should be working on a plan to update the program to make it more mutually beneficial to the state and to the participating municipalities.

“There is no reason to cut the program entirely, and doing so will cause economic harm to cities like Elizabeth, where the program is working as intended. This is the perfect example of a budget situation where the Governor should be using a scalpel instead of an ax.”

The program’s purpose is to spur revitalization of urban areas through the use of tax credits and a reduced sales tax.

Earlier this month, Quijano detailed the disproportionate effect that she said the program’s elimination will have on minority-owned businesses, which make up the bulk of business communities in UEZ municipalities. In Elizabeth, more than 33 percent of businesses are minority-owned, 43 percent of businesses in Hillside are minority-owned, and Roselle’s business community is 23 percent minority-owned, she stated. The statewide average for minority business ownership, on the other hand, is 9 percent.

The Christie administration has criticized the program in the past stating that it is inefficient and costly.  Last year he directed money from the program into the general treasury, and this year he has proposed phasing the program out altogether.