TRENTON – Officials from towns that benefit from Urban Enterprise Zones told the Assembly Labor Committee today they want the state to restore funding for the program.
Urban Enterprise Zones offer certain municipalities a reduced sales tax (3.5 percent), tax-free purchases on certain items, financial assistance from agencies such as the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, energy sales tax exemptions, and tax credit options to help spur business and economic growth.
In the governor’s proposed budget, there is no state money allocated for the UEZ program.
After the hearing, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, (D-29), Newark, said he hopes to sit down with Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Cape May, who has a similar proposal in the upper chamber for restoring UEZ funding.
Coutinho said he hopes to come to a consensus with Van Drew before negotiating with the governor’s office over final budget numbers.
Coutinho said he’d like to see modifications to the UEZ program and about a third of the funds being restored, while Van Drew’s proposal calls for approximately 50 percent of the funding to be restored.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy testified before the committee on Monday, asking for at least a partial restoration of funds.
“Half a loaf is better than no loaf,” Healy said to the committee.
Healy said the program has allowed Jersey City to clean up its streets, install security cameras in the business district, and “encourage businesses to not just stay in Jersey City but also to come to Jersey City.”
“If we get half of it, we’ll find a way to get by,” Healy said.
Newark Deputy Mayor Adam Zipkin, who is also the head of Newark’s Department of Economic and Housing Development, spoke about how UEZ funding has helped his city, including the construction and opening of a new supermarket in the city’s central ward, the first new supermarket in over 20 years.
“We have projects in our pipeline that could be moving forward if we have access to funds,” Zipkin said.
Louis Ferrara, Wildwood’s UEZ coordinator, said that his town has “resisted and refused” to use UEZ funding for municipal purposes.
A criticism of the UEZ program has been that municipalities use money from the program to fund municipal operations.
“I’m not even asking for 50 percent myself,” said Yves Audobourg, the UEZ coordinator in Hillside. “Just give us something.”
John Peneda, Kearny’s UEZ department head, said UEZ funding has helped to create almost 700 new jobs in his town.