The epic political clash of New Jersey titans George Norcross and Phil Murphy can be entertaining, and it certainly isn’t dull. But if the Democratic Party boss and the Democratic governor truly do care about Camden as deeply as they claim, they ought to stop arguing about the city and join forces to do something for it.
We’d like to help by offering each an olive branch. Norcross gets credit for steering an extraordinary effort to transform public safety and public education, as well as jump-start the long-moribund economy, in the extraordinarily impoverished city where he was born. Murphy gets credit for assembling a task force to take a clear-eyed look at the overly ambitious if not grandiose state tax incentive program that Norcross, his Democratic machine allies, and former Republican Gov. Chris Christie devised to persuade corporations and companies to invest in Camden or other depressed Garden State cities.
We’re aware Norcross and Murphy are hardly free of political or other self-serving motives; this is New Jersey we’re talking about, after all. We also applaud the governor’s task force for raising worthy questions about the sometimes custom-tailored nature of the incentive-enabling legislation, and for investigating how generous tax breaks could be awarded in exchange for only vague or cursory information about potential job creation and employment of city residents — the same people, in other words, the clash of the titans is supposedly about.
Norcross is appealing a state Superior Court’s rejection of his lawsuit to have the “illegal” investigation shut down, but the findings thus far suggest that a continuing investigation of this corporate welfare extravaganza is essential. Public money deserves public scrutiny. Lavish company headquarters — at least five and counting — and other downtown and waterfront projects collectively have been awarded $1.6 billion in state tax breaks. And some got city property tax breaks as well.
Norcross supporters insist that no companies would be investing in Camden without incentives like these, and perhaps there’s truth to that. But nothing better demonstrates the folly of predicating "economic development” on handing over scarce public dollars than Politico’s revelation last week that subsidy-rich Camden still could not land a supermarket — a project sought literally for decades — and may actually have lessened its chances to do so because of machinations involving incentives.
There’s some good news: The Cooper’s Ferry Partnership announced a joint effort with Hopeworks, a city nonprofit savvy about preparing Camden youth for high-tech employment, to create a website focused on Camden jobs. The Partnership also is developing information about how many jobs have been added in the city and how many of those jobs are held by city residents.