PRESS RELEASE: Workers, Activists, Small Business Owners, Policy Experts, Clergy & Union Members Discuss Real Impact of Lavish Tax Incentives

For Immediate Release: Monday, February 11th, 2019

 

Workers, Activists, Small Business Owners, Policy Experts, Clergy & Union Members Discuss Real Impact of Lavish Tax Incentives

Participants Decry Billions in Budget Busting Awards to Politically-Connected Corporations, Closed Legislative Hearing

(TRENTON, NJ) Today, a diverse group of policy experts, workers, small business owners, activists, clergy and union members are holding a press conference to provide a more balanced view of the impacts of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority tax incentive program.  They come together as the NJ Legislature holds a closed joint hearing of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Senate Economic Growth Committee concerning the oversight and effectiveness of the flawed program.

A recent audit by the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller offered a scathing review of the EDA tax incentive programs incentive programs – finding that at least 20% of the jobs promised from the incentive programs have not been created.

The incentives will cost the State nearly $3.5 billion over the next three years alone in missing revenue, making other critical investments difficult or impossible to achieve.

The legislative committee invited more than 20 guests to testify before the committee.  Unfortunately, the testimony will be on an “invite only” basis. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of invitees are from companies with a vested interest in maintaining the incentive programs.  Unlike most hearings in Trenton, no public testimony is being sought.

Missing from the committee’s agenda is any input about the impact on state budgets, impact on communities, or how much of an outlier New Jersey has become in this area.  National experts, labor and community groups, budget experts, and businesses that have invested in cities like Camden without the benefit of generous tax breaks have not been invited, leading many to conclude the hearing is not a diligent attempt to develop a full picture and reform the incentives in a way that meets the needs of New Jersey communities.

Here is what those at today’s press conference are saying:

 

“New Jersey’s lavish corporate subsidy programs have been poorly designed, poorly managed and have done little to improve the state’s economy — all at an enormous cost to taxpayers and the state budget. Beginning next year, already-approved tax breaks may lead to $1 billion loss of revenue a year, hurting the state’s ability to invest in vital assets proven to spur economic growth, like early education, public colleges and universities, and transit infrastructure.”  —Sheila Reynertson, Senior Policy Analyst, New Jersey Policy Perspective.

“The job of the Legislature is to listen to the voices of all people — not just serve the wealthy and well-connected. The issuing of these tax credits was done behind closed doors and undemocratic, and the way this hearing has been orchestrated is more of the same. Government should never be permitted to put their finger on the scale in favor of large corporations at the expense of workers and community members- whether it be in the form of gluttonous tax breaks or exclusionary hearings in Trenton. Neither is democratic; neither results in good policy.  The residents of South Jersey are ready for change. We demand transparency, fairer community development policy, and a Legislature that reflects the will and power of all the people.” – Sue Altman, resident of Camden and SJWPC Board Member

“While the Economic Development Authority was giving away $11 billion in tax breaks to big corporations for no apparent return on investment, small business owners like me were re-investing our profits in our communities and creating jobs, all while paying our fair share of taxes. If our state Legislature wants to jump-start our economy they need to put a stop to these tax breaks and properly fund services that benefit all businesses while putting money in the pockets of consumers–this includes public pensions, public health, infrastructure, safety, and education.” Susan Crawford, co-owner of Plankton Art Company in Mount Holly

“I have been a Camden resident for over 50 years and a city employee for over 20.  It’s not fair that these big corporations come into our city and get big tax breaks and we the people get nothing.  I’m a firm believer in fair and equal treatment and until this happens I don’t believe our city will rise.”  Kyle Smith, Camden Resident & Worker at Camden Public Works

“The truth is simple..if it’s complicated it’s a lie.. As parent, resident and community organizer I am exhausted with how so-called “leaders” lobby for NJ residents’ votes and the return on our investment is poverty, unemployment, gentrification, privatization, under-resourced public schools and favors to big businesses. We need people with integrity in the legislature who will say “no” to corporate greed and “yes” to improving the conditions of each resident in cities like Camden.” -Ronsha Dickerson, Journey for Justice Alliance National Organizer, Parent, Camden Resident

“I know that all of us dream what New Jersey could have done with that money.  We need safe, healthy, updated and well-funded schools where we can give our students what they need to succeed.” –Marie Blistan, President of the New Jersey Education Association 

“It is incredibly shameful and infuriating that lawmakers chose to give away billions of dollars of taxpayer money to corporations in exchange for so little at a time when that money could have gone towards healthcare, pensions, infrastructure, environmental remediation, and so many other things our state is in desperate need of. The closed-door nature of this hearing is just another example of the troubling lack of transparency that has characterized this entire process. New Jerseyans deserve a democracy that works for people, not just well-connected corporations.”  – Meredith Meisenheimer, resident of Collingswood and SJWPC Board Member

“CEO’s have been feasting on taxpayer-funded caviar while working people have gotten a big bowl of jack squat.”  —Stephen Johnson, worker at Camden County Board of Social Services in the City of Camden

“Since the potentially fraudulent practices involved in the incentives have been uncovered, we are encouraged by Governor Murphy’s plan to rein in and reform these wasteful corporate tax subsidies.  All elected leaders should be committed to stopping this abuse and putting taxpayer funds instead towards fixing our state’s real problems — like investing in transit, fully funding our schools, and supporting other programs that working people in New Jersey depend on.”  —Ray Greaves, Chairman, NJ State Council of the Amalgamated Transit Union

“The EDA’s tax incentive blunder under the Christie administration is severe, but it’s nothing new and it didn’t happen in a vacuum. These sorts of corporate welfare policies and economic gymnastics keep happening not because our elected leaders think they work, but precisely because they’re not written for New Jerseyans. They’re written for business lobbyists and mega-profitable corporations.” —Brandon Castro, Organizer, New Jersey Work Environment Council

“Why is the legislature holding an “invite only” hearing? What is the harm in making an effort to open the hearing to all citizens? This topic affects thousands and thousands of NJ’s people, from workers to residents to educators, for generations. This is not a narrow technical topic- there is a dire need for transparency. The legislature should be intentional in its reaching out to the community. To not do so reminds us of their development strategy: Focus on the rich and powerful and forget the people. That is not the American way.” – Lisa Pierce, retired educator, Camden City School District and SJWPC Steering Committee member

“New Jersey residents pay high taxes. There should be documentation of effective and efficient use of those taxes. At the very least, there should be transparency on how those taxes are spent. However the Performance Audit of Selected State Tax Incentive Programs, released 1/9/2019, found the “lack of policies and procedures to monitor awardees’ performance….and insufficient documentation requirements for awardees to report specific accomplishments of their performance results. These failures resulted in inaccurate representations of awardee performance to the stakeholders and taxpayers.

“Now hearings are being held with only a “selected” list of invitees. Missing from the list of invitees are labor and community groups who are most directly impacted, representatives of businesses that have invested in cities like Camden without benefit of generous tax breaks, and national experts who could offer insights for avoiding some of the same problems in the future. Why wasn’t the list of invitations released earlier? Why weren’t key voices included? Taxpayers deserve better from the NJ Legislature.” – Caroline Wong, resident of Cherry Hill and SJWPC Steering Committee member.

###