Lesniak’s Economic Opportunity Act II advances

TRENTON – The mayor of the state’s second largest city championed the economic opportunity bill before a Senate panel Thursday as crucial to the municipality as well as the state. The bill passed.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, seen as a rising Democratic Party star and possible gubernatorial candidate in the future, said the Economic Opportunity Act II – which seeks to restore elements left out of the first bill – would help increase jobs  and improve the economy in his waterfront town.

In particular, Fulop said the element of the bill that would hold great potential for his town is the film production tax credit.

He told the Senate Economic Growth Committee today that New York City production companies have already contacted his city about relocating, but absent the tax credits of this bill, Jersey City can’t compete with the Big Apple.

NYC has a 30 percent credit, he said, while New Jersey currently has no such credit to offer.

Average salary for some of these highly skilled jobs is $84,000, double some average salaries in Jersey City, Fulop said.

“Committee timing for this measure could not be better,’’ since such companies are looking at East Coast locations. “It allows us to tap the most amazing thing about our city: Diversity.”

And Kelly O’Brien of the Newark office of film and television said New Jersey loses out on shows set in the state such as “Boardwalk Empire’’ because of the lack of such tax incentives.

“This is giving away ice in the winter time, these are revenues that aren’t coming here without’’ the tax incentives of this bill, said sponsor and committee Chair Sen. Ray Lesniak.

Business groups and bankers associations were in favor of the bill as well.

The bill did have opponents. Darryl Iwicki of Americans for Prosperity criticized it.

“We have a long history of being opposed to subsidies,’’ he said, whatever the reason. “We already passed the first version of this. These are Band-Aids” that he called corporate welfare.

He said the way to improve the business climate overall is to reduce tax burdens for all.

But Lesniak retorted that “the most important social justice is jobs,’’ and the tax incentives are essential for a high-cost-of-living state such as New Jersey.

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.

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 whittled 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.

In addition to the film tax credit section, he wants to see passed several items:

*Repurposing of disused hospital properties

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

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

The bill still has to go before the Budget Committee.

Lesniak’s Economic Opportunity Act II advances