TRENTON – Sen. Mike Doherty, (R-23), Washington Township said during a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development that if the state wants to attract businesses, it should gut the Highlands Act, calling it “an extra layer of government.”
His comments came a day before a joint Environment committee hearing Thursday into the status of the Highlands Act. That hearing started but had to be adjourned because a Senate voting session was scheduled.
He said the controversial 2004 state law that placed development restrictions on several properties in the northwestern section of the state to preserve the quality of drinking water has had a dire impact on the state’s economy.
Doherty said “It breaks my heart” that that section of the state “remains dormant due in large part to the Highlands Act.” He said that the relatively nearby Lehigh Valley region is prospering with business development.
Lifting the law could help grow businesses again in the state, which has been notorious in business circles for being unfriendly due to excessive regulation, he said.
“It would send a tremendous signal to the business community,” he said. “New Jersey will be back open for business.”
He said the quality of drinking water would not be compromised, since the state Department of Environmental Protection would still oversee drinking water standards.
If something’s not done to improve the business growth climate, business owners will continue to flee to nearby states, he warned.
“It’s not theory,” he said. “People of New Jersey will go over to Pennsylvania. Small business owners will pick up and leave New Jersey.”
He did point to one area where he said New Jersey does have an upper hand: a low gasoline tax. As a result, people from Pennsylvania come to the Garden State to fuel up.
“All the people from Pennsylvania come to New Jersey to buy their gas,” he said, about people coming to Phillipsburg, the last town on Route 78 in the western border of New Jersey. “They line up.”
He praised Gov. Chris Christie for not caving into Democrats’ demands for not raising taxes, particularly the millionaire’s surtax.
“I’m glad we have a governor that understands that raising the millionaire’s tax has real consequences,” he said. “More regulation, more red tape, higher taxes – we need to eliminate some of that.”