Members of the progressive political establishment joined forces Tuesday to keep the pressure on the beleaguered Economic Development Authority, or EDA. The semi-autonomous agency has been the subject of tough rhetoric from the administration, and unflattering headlines, which allege that it threw away $11 billion in good money after bad on corporate citizens who failed to deliver sufficient bang for the buck. The activists blamed the board for being asleep at the wheel.
“Money that could be used for schools, roads, and bridges. Instead it has gone to some of the most profitable and politically connected companies in the state,” said New Jersey Working Families interim director Rob Duffy. “And as we are seeing from whistleblower account after whistleblower account, there was a lack of oversight, accountability, and transparency at the authority.”
A task force appointed by the governor to investigate the authority heard testimony recently about companies that lied and circumvented guidelines to benefit from EDA tax breaks. Outrageous, said the activists at Tuesday’s demonstration and news conference. Someone should be held responsible.
“This type of behavior cannot be the norm,” added Sue Altman, a board member with South Jersey Women for Progressive Change. “New Jersey needs an entire rethink about how it performs checks and balances over our most powerful citizens. We need an end to political cronyism. This is the fox guarding the henhouse and it must stop today.”
The first step? The board — still mostly made up of appointments from the previous administration — should resign, said the coalition, which took its ire to the authority’s regular monthly board meeting.
“The most recent reports from the comptroller and the whistleblowers coming up demonstrate that you all, the board, are asleep at the switch or active participants in this corruption,” charged David Pringle, longtime environmental activist and now principal consultant with David Pringle Associates. “Either is unacceptable, and it’s time for you to resign, today.”
Reaction from the board? Thank you, and, “OK, we’ll move on to our authority matters. Tim, you’ll start us off,” said board chairman Laurence Downes.
The board did approve the governor’s brownfields and film and TV credit programs, so that was something from the governor’s incentives agenda that did progress.
There was no comment from board members on either the demonstration before or the presentation at Tuesday’s meeting. And anyone who thought that there would be actual resignations would be shocked to find that there were none.