Economic Opportunity Act signed amid bipartisan show of force

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie signed the Economic Opportunity Act into law today, completing a lengthy and controversial process of pruning five tax incentive programs to two.

Left standing are the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant program and the Grow NJ Assistance program, the first being a redevelopment aid to close financing gaps and build infrastructure, the second being a major business attraction and jobs retention effort.

The bill expands opportunities, particularly in South Jersey, and is designed to streamline the bureaucracy. Its backers touted it as a weapon to help New Jersey deal with other states’ attempts to lure Jersey businesses away.

On hand were lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and several regions of the state, illustrating the idea that this bipartisan bill has something for everyone.

After thanking legislative leaders and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno – who he said has spent three-plus years on job-creation efforts such as this – Christie said that “this group of incentives will lead to making us more competitive with other states across the country.”

Among other things, the bill designates Garden State growth zones, the four lowest median income urban areas of  Camden, Trenton, Passaic City and Paterson, providing  lower eligibility thresholds.

Senate President and Third District Sen. Steve Sweeney said that “in my part of the state, Pennsylvania has programs that make it almost impossible to make us competitive.” This bill, he said, does help the entire state, not just one region.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said, “This is  a great day for jobs in New Jersey, an indication of a governor who will listen to both sides of the aisle and will not give up.”

Further underscoring the cross-the-aisle nature of today’s celebration, Speaker Sheila Oliver said that “There can be ideological and philosophical differences, but one thing is certain: Jobs and job creation represent the best kind of social programs that government can stand up and support.’’

However, the bill – heavily amended and at one point conditionally vetoed – has its detractors.

Environmentalists insist it will place sensitive regions of the state at risk. 

Sen. Ray Lesniak decried its lack of affordable housing efforts to help developers in smaller urban areas and Christie’s striking of prevailing wage provisions for maintenance workers in his CV.

N.J. Policy Perspective, whose officials include Corzine-era veterans, has criticized some aspects of the bill, including the removal of prevailing wage protections.

Christie slammed NJPP President Gordon MacInnes’ continued criticisms of the bill today, saying they are “Architects of the failed Corzine economic policy,” and adding “The good news for the state is they have no effect on state policy.”

The Legislature quickly concurred with the CV last week: The Assembly passed it 71-6, then the Senate passed it 35-1.

Among other legislators on hand were Democrats Sen. Donald Norcross and Assembly members Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton as well as Republicans Sen.  Joe Kyrillos and Assembly member Anthony Bucco.

Christie said this bill will simplify things for the Economic Development Authority and for program applicants: a hodgepodge of programs is gone, capital expenditure requirements have been lowered in some instances to encourage investment in some hard-hit areas, and EDA gains increased flexibility.

Economic Opportunity Act signed amid bipartisan show of force