New Jersey

Panel Says More Diligence About New Jersey's Tax Credit Awards Is Needed

It's unclear what will happen next with tax incentives

New Jersey authorities overseeing the state's multibillion-dollar business tax credit programs should have been more diligent before awarding $260 million to a firm that gave false information on its award application, a task force said Tuesday. 

At a public meeting Tuesday, an attorney for the task force looking into the programs announced that the panel had discovered through media reports and a Freedom of Information Act request information about a company that should have been uncovered by the body that awarded the credits. 

Instead, the attorney said the Economic Development Authority failed to uncover the information when they greenlighted the award to Holtec International, a Camden-based spent nuclear fuel manufacturer.

"The EDA should have conducted greater diligence because if we were able to obtain this information from both media sources and a (Freedom of Information Act) application certainly the EDA could have done that itself," said attorney Jim Walden. 

A message seeking comment was left with the development authority.

Holtec's award had already been suspended because the task force found that Holtec said in its award application that it had not previously been barred by authorities from conducting business, even though it was barred for 60 days by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2010.

Tuesday's hearing is just the latest in a probe of the state's 2013 tax credit programs, which expired on July 1 and awarded $8 billion under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie. 

The task force issued a report last month highlighting how special interests tied to Democratic powerbroker George Norcross helped write the law establishing the credits and later benefited. Norcross has disputed the findings and is suing Gov. Phil Murphy over his task force, arguing it's unfairly and illegitimately exercising subpoena power. 

The firms highlighted in the report have ties to Camden, and Tuesday's meeting gave officials from the southern New Jersey city a chance to respond. 

Many credited the 2013 tax credit law as a key part of the city's revitalization, saying that firms refused to locate in Camden before the generous tax credits were implemented 

"I believe we're at the beginning of a renaissance that will be a national model in years to come," Camden County Freeholder Louis Cappelli said.

There were also critics of the program, though, who argued the credits were too costly for taxpayers. 

"There are much more effective and less expensive ways to stimulate the economy and improve quality of life in New Jersey's high poverty communities than to give billions of dollars to corporations," said Julia Sass Rubin, a tax credit expert at Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. 

It's unclear what will happen next with tax incentives. Murphy has called for a new program that caps awards, but legislators have passed a six-month extension of the expired programs. The governor says he will veto it.

Legislators are also planning their own hearings on tax credits.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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