NJ Policy Perspective President: COAH Should Be Reviewed, Business Incentives Should Be Capped

July 10, 2013 | Politics
New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes believes affordable housing should be reworked in New Jersey and lawmakers should consider a cap on incentives offered to attract businesses to the state.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Chris Christie did not have the authority to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing. New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the state needs affordable housing options for residents and the court followed the law in its decision. MacInnes also discussed the issue of immigration reform and the Economic Opportunity Act, which aims to offer incentives for businesses to come and stay in New Jersey.

MacInnes said the Supreme Court’s decision about COAH wasn’t political. “I think they read the law and they handed down their decision. I think it’s probably important because governors like to take advantage of the authority in their office and sometimes they crowd the boundary and the court’s there to pull them back,” he said.

According to MacInnes, COAH hasn’t worked like its creators had hoped. “It needs to be reviewed in terms of being more effective. Certainly the issue of affordable housing has gotten more intense in New Jersey. Affordable housing is out of reach of a larger share of our population than used to be the case,” he said.

A new report has found that undocumented immigrants in New Jersey pay nearly $500 million in taxes — $58 million in income taxes, $95 million in property taxes and $323 million in sales taxes. MacInnes said the numbers don’t surprise him because undocumented immigrants come to the United States because they want a better job and a better life.

“It’s not surprising that they have some income and they have to buy things. The sales tax part of that is not at all a surprise. I think the $58 million in income tax surprises some people because you need to have Social Security or an individual tax identification number for that,” MacInnes said.

MacInnes has been quoted as saying if immigration reform passes and President Barack Obama signs it, New Jersey stands to gain $81 million. He explained that since people being paid under the table would be paid legally, they would pay taxes.

Some groups like the Heritage Foundation say undocumented immigrants use more services than they pay for, saying for every $10,000 they pay in taxes, they use $25,000 in services.

“If you include the fact that the children of undocumented residents are entitled to a public education, yes we invest a lot in them, which sort of raises the question why don’t we continue that investment through college as we do for everybody else who resides here? But I don’t believe, I don’t think that these are leaches in our society,” MacInnes said. “I think they’re contributors by and large.”

MacInnes has been critical of the Economic Opportunity Act, which offers incentives for businesses to come and stay in New Jersey. While he supports incentives to retain businesses, since surrounding states Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut have them, he doesn’t believe the incentives are doing enough for New Jersey.

“We’ve moved it from using it primarily to attract jobs from other states into New Jersey to moving jobs around in New Jersey. This bill, which started as a pretty sensible effort to simplify and to consolidate all of these incentive programs, now has blown up with lots of last minute amendments that are obviously aimed at specific projects,” MacInnes said.

Some have said Senate President Steve Sweeney has been using his clout to get more help for businesses in southern New Jersey. “Certainly the bonus that is given to businesses located in certain counties constitutes help for South Jersey that should be available frankly to everybody who’s starting a business or growing a business or moving a business to New Jersey,” MacInnes said.

MacInnes said he would put a cap on the incentives. “If there’s no cap, then the review of competing applications would be, ‘Hey what’s to lose? We’ll just approve everybody because we can keep doing it.’ If you have a cap, then you say, ‘Let’s be careful. Let’s pick the best applications.’ And I think that that’s the problem with this bill,” he said.