Business Report Plus: Budget season begins

  • Legislature begins debate on Murphy’s $34.7 billion budget proposal
  • Murphy’s state budget calls for a $3.2 billion pension contribution
  • State Investment Council sells a $1.9 million stake in Vista Outdoor, which makes semi-automatic rifles
  • A union-backed Carpenters Training Center opened in Edison
  • Rowan University announced the creation of the Rowan Work & Learn Consortium
  • Camden-based Campbell’s Soup acquires competitor Snyder’s-Lance
  • Stock Market’s first quarter ends, where wild point swings were witnessed all winter.

It’s budget season in New Jersey as the Legislature begins debate on Gov. Phil Murphy’s plans for spending your tax dollars. The $34.7 billion budget blueprint includes a millionaire’s tax and an increase in the state sales tax to pay for increased spending, but already there’s disagreement over where some of the money should go. As Briana Vannozzi and David Cruz reported this week, it’s going to be a long budget season.

There was quite a bit of news this week about the state’s underfunded public worker pension system. The credit ratings agency Moody’s warned that the Murphy administration’s decision to gradually reduce the fund’s assumed rate of return will lead to the accumulation of about a half billion dollars less in assets through fiscal year 2023. You may recall the Christie administration reduced the pension fund’s assumed rate of return from 7.65 percent to 7 percent, but the Murphy administration reversed that, saying it would have created ‘undue stress’ on local governments that would have to pony up more in contributions.

There’s a reason it’s called an ‘assumed’ rate of return — whether or not the pension system’s investments can actually make that return is conditioned on things like how the stock market performs. Moody’s said what’s more important is that the state stick to its schedule of ramped-up pension funding. Murphy is doing that this year, as his state budget calls for a $3.2 billion contribution.

Also this week, the State Investment Council disclosed it recently sold a $1.9 million stake in Vista Outdoor, a company that makes semi-automatic rifles. The state Legislature is currently considering bills that would ban the pension system from investing in gun and ammunition makers.

Recent employment numbers have shown an uptick in hiring in the state, but there’s still a disconnect between available jobs and the skills needed to perform them. That’s a frustrating situation for both employers and job seekers. But several groups are hoping to change that. This week, a union-backed Carpenters Training Center opened in Edison, which is designed to train apprentices for careers in the industry. Murphy attended the ribbon cutting along with numerous other officials.

In South Jersey, Rowan University announced the creation of the Rowan Work & Learn Consortium. It’s being described as a new, customizable approach to higher education that brings together vocational schools, county colleges, four-year universities and local business partners to produce graduates ready to be hired within high-demand positions.

“There may not be another partnership quite like this in the country,” said Rowan University president, Dr. Ali Houshmand. “We have county government, higher education, and a broad range of companies all working together to strengthen the region and provide opportunity.”​

One of the region’s biggest companies, Camden-based Campbell’s Soup, acquired competitor Snyder’s-Lance, which makes Lance crackers among other treats. With the acquisition, Campbell’s is forming a new unit called Campbell’s Snacks, which is valued at $10 billion.

In Hoboken, plans are in the works for a new waterfront hotel. A new 17-story Hilton will be built a block away from Hoboken Terminal, assuming the city council approves the proposal at a meeting next week.

Elsewhere, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University launched a $100 million endowment fund to provide scholarships for students. The new medical school is set to open this summer, with a first class of 55 students. It’s located on part of the former Hoffman La Roche complex in Nutley and Clifton.

Wall Street was closed on Good Friday, which marked the end of the first quarter, and what a messy quarter it was. We witnessed wild point swings in the market all winter, and so far this year the Dow Industrials are down 2.5 percent.

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