New legislative developments on incentive programs, tourism funding, and minimum wage
The spotlight is poised to shine bright on New Jersey politics in 2013, as there are no federal elections and the governor and all 120 state legislators are up for reelection on November 5.
Governor Christie began 2013 with strong approval ratings in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and continues to have a strong lead in the polls over his Democratic opponent, state Senator Barbara Buono. With that said, there are recent legislative developments that could impact the state’s business climate just in time for campaign season.
Streamlining economic incentive programs
The much-heralded economic development reform measure to consolidate the state’s five existing incentive programs down to two, Grow New Jersey and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth program, has been postponed with the Legislature’s budget break.
This should come as no surprise to anyone ever involved in government but add one to the hurry up and wait list. While enjoying wide bipartisan support, and with Governor Christie eager to sign the bill, the legislation was nonetheless delayed due to Hurricane Sandy. With such strong bipartisan support, the issue is not of opposition to streamlining but rather the complexities and technical aspects of these incentive programs and the Legislative calendar.
There now is concern that unless the legislature convenes a special session in April or May, passage may be delayed until June. If the legislation is not approved by June 30 (New Jersey’s fiscal year deadline), the next opportunity may not occur until November.
The reality of this schedule has some of New Jersey’s leading economic development advocates seeing red—literally. Advocates are concerned the delay could throw a wet blanket on redevelopment investment and become a drag on New Jersey’s emerging economic revival.
Yet hope remains high as these important economic incentives enjoy such consensus between the legislative leadership and the Administration. The state continues to encourage businesses to use the products and services available through the Business Action Center, Choose New Jersey, and the Economic Development Authority.
Tourism supplemental funding
The Christie administration has proposed a state plan for use of the disaster recovery money from the federal government. The proposed $25 million plan is essentially an advertising campaign aimed at educating consumers and tourists that New Jersey’s vacation, entertainment, recreation, and historic destinations are open for business now.
The Administration’s proposal looks like they took direction right from the New Jersey Travel Industry Association playbook, a plus for the tourism and hospitality industry.
The Meadowlands Regional Chamber (MRC) and its tourism arm, the Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau (MLCVB), strongly advocated for part of the disaster recovery money to deliver the message that New Jersey is running and open to visitors.
The efforts led by MRC CEO Jim Kirkos and MLCVB Director Judith Ross were a tremendous addition to the state’s tourism industry mission to impress upon the Christie administration the critical need for marketing the state and reverse the national assumption that New Jersey’s tourism industry has not recovered.
The debate in the legislature on increasing the minimum wage in NJ is over for now and will now be left to voters. Governor Chris Christie declined signing a bill earlier this year which would have increased the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 and would have tied future increases to the rate of inflation. Instead, Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, offering plan to reduce the minimum wage increase to $8.25 per hour, introduce a 3-year phase-in, and eliminate altogether the provision for yearly annual cost of living adjustments.
In response to the veto, both houses of the state legislature approved a resolution that will put a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot. It would raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour with future increases tied to the rate of inflation. The resolution also provides that if the federal minimum hourly wage rate is raised to a level higher than the state minimum wage rate, the state rate will increase to match the federal rate.
The MRC’s Public Affairs and Advocacy Committee is at your disposal if there are other government issues on which you want the Chamber to focus. If you believe any of these developments are important enough to your business, please contact the MRC office at 201-939-0707 to learn more about how you can communicate with our elected representatives in Trenton.
By Michael Turner. Turner is president of Burton Trent Public Affairs LLC and also serves as chair of the MRC’s Public Affairs and Advocacy Committee.