TRENTON - State lawmakers advanced a slate of bills Wednesday intended to create jobs and spur economic development.
Among the bills released by the Assembly and Senate budget committees was a proposal to allow unemployed residents to receive workplace training from potential employers while still receiving unemployment insurance benefits.
Also advanced were a bill to require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to create a website to allow individuals to file claims for unemployment insurance benefits 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and another changing the way taxes are calculated for multistate corporations.
Other bills would create tax credits for start-up investments in high-tech and biotechnology companies, and direct the state Economic Development Authority and Commission on Higher Education to bring together business and colleges for joint research and development ventures.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said the bill to allow unemployed residents to receive workplace training while receiving unemployment benefits would "allow out-of-work New Jerseyans to develop the new skills they need and keep them tethered to the workforce even in the face of unemployment."
"It's just the kind of program we need to tackle this recession and help workers and businesses alike to jumpstart our economy and move our state forward," Oliver said.
Democratic lawmakers announced last month that they would act in January on a package of about 30 economic recovery bills, including some co-sponsored by Republicans.
The announcement came as Gov. Christie continued to criticize the Democratic-led Legislature for failing to take action on his legislative property tax "tool kit."
Democrats have approved several bills related to property taxes and recently proposed changes to the binding arbitration system that determines compensation for police and firefighters when contract negotiations reach an impasse, a key element of the "tool kit." The governor met with legislative leaders this week to try to reach an agreement on the arbitration proposal.
Republican lawmakers on Wednesday asked why bills they had previously proposed to help the economy had not received consideration.
"We took a good first step today in helping reduce unemployment, but it is just a first step and must go further," said Sen. Michael Doherty (R., Warren). "My colleagues and I have submitted countless proposals to reduce the tax and regulatory burdens on employers, retrain displaced workers, and refocus state economic development efforts. These bills are complementary to the majority's stated goal of job creation and deserve consideration as well."
Some Republicans raised the question of where the money would come from to pay for some of the initiatives Democrats were backing.
Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlan Jr. (R., Monmouth), asked where the state would find the money to pay for the bill to allow unemployed residents to receive workplace training while getting unemployment benefits. The bill would appropriate $10 million to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to help defray the costs of workplace training.
"I have trouble voting for something that I'm not sure how we're going to pay for, where the money is coming from," O'Scanlan said.
Bill Holland, executive director of New Jersey Working Families Alliance, also was critical of some of the legislation.
"When the state can't even fully fund its public schools, property tax relief programs, or pension obligations, it is dead wrong for legislative leaders to give scarce state resources to corporations as tax breaks and subsidies," Holland said.
New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) president Deb Howlett pointed out that many of the bills lack fiscal notes, which estimate how much legislation will cost taxpayers and which are required by law.
"Members of the committee are voting with almost no information about these bills," Howlett said. "They don't know if they will cost $1 or $500 million. They don't know if they will create a single job."
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), however, praised the Legislature for taking action to help businesses.
The group has been lobbying for the bill to change the way multi-state corporations are taxed, known as single-sales factor, since 2001. Under the bill, multi-state corporations headquartered in New Jersey would pay taxes only on the income earned from sales in New Jersey.
NJBIA vice president David Brogan said the single-sales-factor bill would level the playing field for New Jersey-based companies against out-of-state companies.
"Our current tax system penalizes companies that call New Jersey home," Brogan said. "This is backward. We should reward companies that support jobs here as well as those that invest in our state, not the other way around. This legislation would correct a huge disincentive created by a tax policy that is counterproductive to in-state job growth."
According to NJPP, it was estimated that a prior version of the bill would have cost the state $250 million in lost revenue.