Task force report blasts EDA tax incentive programs

Despite impassioned pleas from high-profile attorneys, the argument that the governor’s Economic Development Authority task force was doing reputational harm to South Jersey power broker George Norcross and the companies with which he’s affiliated was rejected in court Monday.

Within minutes of the ruling, the report Norcross and company wanted to stop was in inboxes across the state and the result will likely be more reputational harm.

“Special Interests, Which Prioritized Benefits to Private Parties Rather than the State, Had a Significant Impact on […] Statutes and Regulations” said the report.

Perhaps the most damning revelation, an email from an executive at Camden-based Cooper University Hospital — where George Norcross is chairman — to a real estate broker, allegedly asking for a sham inquiry.

“As part of our EDA application we need a term sheet for a potential location outside of NJ. I need a credible location,” says the email “ … can you get me a term sheet for 120K sf? Quietly? No probability of us moving to Center Sq, so I don’t want to make too much noise.”

Moving employees out of state was a threat the company used to secure some $40 million in tax breaks.

“The EDA spends hundreds of millions of dollars of the people’s money, and the people of New Jersey have a right to know whether that program has being administered in a fair fashion,” said Ted Wells, an attorney for the Murphy administration.

Attorneys for Norcross and the other plaintiffs in the case did not stop to talk to media after the judge rejected their request for an injunction against the report, but the whole premise of their case is that the governor — through the task force — is attacking their clients and, by extension, the city of Camden. Not so, says the task force chairman, Ronald Chen.

“In these types of transactions, it is impossible, in investigating the EDA, not to make reference and to look at the transactions of these applicants who got millions and millions of dollars worth of tax credits and tax incentives,” explained Chen.

It’s possible that some of those tax incentive awards could be coming back, as much as half a billion dollars, according to the report.

Murphy said Tuesday, the fight over the EDA tax incentives program was not over.

“This system cannot be allowed to continue for one day past June 30,” he said. “To do so would be to ignore both the facts presented by the task force and the facts presented by the communities left struggling in the shadows of the buildings this system built.”

Without the governor’s OK the tax incentives would sunset, leaving the state with no program, and the impact of that on New Jersey’s business climate is anyone’s guess.

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