Lesniak bill seeks to address Economic Opportunity Act omissions

TRENTON – A state lawmaker wants to rescue key elements left out of the massive Economic Opportunity Act that was signed into law in September.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth, has long protested what he saw as important omissions and deletions in the bill, A3680, and said months ago he would seek to have them revived.

The bill, a voluminous work that saw numerous amendments and a conditional veto before final passage, essentially whittles state tax-incentive programs for business and jobs growth down to two: the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant and the Grow NJ Assistance, the first being a redevelopment aid to close financing gaps and build infrastructure, the second being a major business attraction and jobs retention effort.

But Lesniak championed numerous aspects left by the side of the road during the negotiations and political machinations.

Among them, he introduced S3030 because he wants to see several items passed:

*Repurposing of disused hospital properties;

*Using $200 million in tax credits for redevelopment of low-income or special needs housing;

*Strengthening the portion that deals with tax credits for attracting film production;

*Authorizing an exception to the 20 percent affordable housing set-aside requirement for qualified residential projects.

Lesniak pointed out that the negotiations over the bill had gotten to the point this past summer and fall that Assembly members had made it clear to the Senate that if there were any more changes the lower chamber wouldn’t be able to pass the bill.

But Lesniak believes in the importance of these aspects that were excluded.

“These provisions are very needed to create jobs,’’ he said today.

Lesniak also feels there is a good reason why Gov. Chris Christie may look favorably on these additions.

“People nationally talk about his presidential aspirations, his abysmal performance on the economy compared to the region and the nation, for a governor who has not done anything for affordable housing and who touts his support from urban areas,” Lesniak said, “these are no-brainers, in my opinion.”

The hospital re-use provision may have been omitted earlier because some felt the tax credit was too generous, Lesniak said, but his bill would offer a 50 percent tax credit for capital investment to renovate a former health care site as a non-acute and health support services center. The developer could apply 10 percent of its capital investment annually for a decade as a credit against corporation business taxes or gross income taxes.

Regarding the film industry provision, the bill would increase the annual program cap for the film production tax credit from $10 million to $50 million and for the digital media production tax credit from $5 million to $10 million. 

The bill would provides for a tax credit equal to 22 percent, instead of the current 20 percent, of eligible production expenses if they represent purchases of goods from businesses located in what are known as Urban Enterprise Zones.

The bill would extend the expiration date of this program from 2015 to 2020.

It may be the problems regarding affordable housing that have concerned Lesniak the most.

“There are projects built in the 60s, high-rises for the most part, and they have deteriorated and are gang-infested and drug-infested,’’ he said, “and they can’t get federal help anymore, and this would be a good way for the governor to show that urban areas are important as well.’’

He said Elizabeth, Jersey City, Paterson, Camden and other towns could benefit.

The bill could possibly come up before the Senate Economic Growth Committee on Thursday.

Lesniak bill seeks to address Economic Opportunity Act omissions