N.J. Economic Opportunity Act clears Senate

TRENTON – The state Senate gave final approval Monday to a massive economic package that seeks to overhaul the way the state gives corporate subsidies.

The bill cleared the Senate despite one of its prime sponsors – Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) – referring to the reworked and final package as “a very flawed bill” that’s rendered “useless” for many areas of the state. The legislation, A3680, cleared the Senate following a 30-4 vote.

“We’re going to send it to the governor and ask him to do the right thing,” said Lesniak, explaining it’s now up to Gov. Chris Christie to work additional amendments into the package.

The bill’s Assembly sponsor, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, (D29), told PolitickerNJ earlier today the bill would be dead if it were forced to be reconciled again with the lower chamber for a third time. Coutinho said he would work with Lesniak, but urged the senator to pass the legislation as is to keep it alive.

“It was made very clear to me by the Assembly sponsor that they would accept no amendments,” Lesniak said on the Senate floor, adding, “We’re going to have to rely on Gov. Christie to correct that wrong because the Assembly refuses to acknowledge and recognize that they made a mistake.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney made a commitment on the floor to work with Lesniak in the coming weeks to get his amendments worked into the final package.

Lesniak proposes adding $200 million in tax credits for redevelopment of old housing projects.

Republican Sen. Joe Kyrillos said the bill should have been passed and adopted six months ago.  In that intervening time, he said, jobs have been lost and opportunities have been missed.

He and Fellow Republican Sen. Sam Thompson said that the bill is not perfect but it was important to get it to the governor’s desk with the expectation he will amend it and it will be reworked.

Democratic Sen. Ron Rice said he supported the bill and the work Lesniak had done, but he remained concerned about what he saw as wastefulness in the housing authorities in Newark and elsewhere.

The bill reduces five tax incentive programs for business growth into two and reduces red tape.

However, environmentalists decried what they said are weakened protections in sensitive areas such as the Highlands.

Also, the bill turns a favorable eye to economically hard-hit areas in South Jersey as that part of the state works to come back from the recession.

N.J. Economic Opportunity Act clears Senate