Coutinho, DCA differ over status of Urban Enterprise Zones

TRENTON – Despite Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to no longer provide funding to the state’s 30-plus Urban Enterprise Zones, Department of Community Affairs officials contend the program is still viable.

Officials said today that the 3.5 percent sales tax is still in place in the municipalities that have had them since the program began in 1983. Also, there are still $68 million left in the UEZ trust fund accounts, which the zones could use to beef up their areas.

They said they are not aware of any business downturn since the state stopped funding the UEZs.

However, Assemblyman and Budget Committee member Albert Coutinho, (D-29), Newark, who has sponsored legislation on a revamped UEZ program, said he’s noticed vacancy rates go up since the state stopped funding them.  

In a statement, he criticized the administration for “neglect” of the program, saying the lack of support “flies in the face” of economic development.

“The governor’s continued neglect of our Urban Enterprise Zones is severely impairing job creation efforts here in New Jersey, and that’s unfortunate news for working class New Jersey families and businesses that call our state home.”

Newspaper reports last year found, though, the UEZ funds were frequently used for municipal items instead of their intended purpose of sprucing up the shopping districts.

Last year, Coutinho sponsored two UEZ bills, A4104 and A4105, which would do the following:

1.) Capping the administrative costs to 10 percent of the overall UEZ funds that are awarded to the town.

2.) Phasing out funding over several years, getting it down to 33 percent of what it currently gets (example: a town that receives $1 million in UEZ funds would eventually only receive $330,000).

3.) Banning the use of UEZ funds for traditional municipal services, such as hiring police officers.

4.) Requiring grant applications, instead of have towns being entitled to the funds.