TRENTON - New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday pushed for greater oversight of the state's economic incentives programs, passing a bill that would require the Treasury Department to report on the efficacy of tax credits awarded to businesses.
Since Gov. Christie took office in 2010, the state has awarded $5.2 billion in tax credits and subsidies, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning research group. That is up from $1.2 billion over the previous decade, according to NJPP.
That trend accelerated with enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, which overhauled the state's incentives programs with broad bipartisan support.
Since that law was enacted, Christie's Economic Development Authority has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to companies moving to Camden, such as the defense contractor Lockheed Martin and the auto manufacturer Subaru.
"Really what we're looking for is a report card," Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) said at a Statehouse news conference Thursday.
"We want to create jobs, and we want to help the business community," he said. "But we need to know what works."
One bill, A939, would require the governor's annual budget message to include a report describing whether the state's tax incentive programs had met their "specific goals, purposes, and objectives."
This would be determined by evaluating "publicly available measurement data" such as the number of jobs created by companies that have received incentives and how much those jobs paid.
Under a 2007 law, the Treasury Department already is required to report such information. But Treasury has not provided the reports, citing federal privacy requirements.
"As currently written, the law asks Treasury to provide break-out information by recipient in contravention of the department's agreements with the Internal Revenue Service respecting the safeguarding and sharing of confidential taxpayer information," the Treasury Department wrote to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services last year.
"We stand ready to work with our partner agencies and colleagues in the Legislature to amend" the law "to facilitate the development and issuance of an evocative and useful report," the department wrote.
The bill would amend the law to try to resolve that issue, adding language that would prohibit the Treasury Department from disclosing corporations' trade secrets or privileged financial information.
"This needs a stronger, stronger lever to make certain that what is one of the most flamboyant tax incentive programs in the country is actually worthy of the taxpayer subsidy that has been required," Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said at the news conference.
The bill also contains a 10-year sunset provision on new incentive programs; it would not be retroactive.
The Assembly passed the bill Thursday on a 43-31 vote. The Senate approved the measure, 23-14, in October. It now heads to Christie's desk.
"The business community is looking for predictability and stability in deciding where to operate, while Democrats search for ways to make it harder to live and work in New Jersey," said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R., Morris), who voted against the bill.
"The 10-year sunset provision for tax incentives will predictably have this effect," he said.
Lawmakers are considering another bill, A660, that would require the state auditor to perform biennial audits of New Jersey's incentives programs. The audit would cover each program that provides grants, loans, or tax credits to private companies.
It would detail the names of the companies that received incentives; the amount of state money they received; a description of the projects the companies were required to complete; and the number of jobs they promised to create, compared with the actual number of jobs they created, among other requirements.
Lawmakers amended the bill Thursday and did not vote on it.