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New Jersey Reconsiders Corporate Tax Incentives

A view of Jersey City's skyline.

A view of Jersey City's skyline. Steve Pavone/Shutterstock

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Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Massachusetts sees support for ranked choice voting … Half of Wisconsin residents haven’t heard of state legislative leaders … California repeals law that requires residents to help police officers.

New Jersey leaders will re-examine tax incentives for businesses after Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey vetoed a bill last month that would have extended the life of two corporate incentive programs. Murphy wants to cap the amount a company can accept in tax incentives at $400 million and only allow companies to sell their incentive once. The old tax programs did not impose such a cap and credits could be transferred an unlimited number of times. “For the past six years, New Jersey has operated under a severely flawed tax incentive program that wasted taxpayer money on handouts to connected companies instead of creating jobs and economic growth. The program I’ve outlined in the conditional veto is one that creates good jobs and works for everyone, not just the connected few,” Murphy said. The tax incentive system has come under fire in recent years for a variety of controversies; one investigation revealed that $1.1 billion of the $1.6 billion of tax breaks awarded to companies in Camden were tied to George Norcross, a Democratic powerbroker whose brother crafted the tax incentive legislation and who led a law firm that represented many of the companies that received tax breaks. (Norcross has defended the tax program and his involvement.) Sue Altman, New Jersey state director for Working Families, an organization that supported tax incentive reform, said that she was pleased to see Murphy stand up to members of his own party. “Right from the beginning, [Murphy] really didn’t play into the hands of party bosses. A lot of people in Trenton are secretly applauding Murphy for standing up to George [Norcross],” she said. Not all are pleased with the veto, though, including New Jersey Citizen Action, a group whose members say the public should have more input in creating the new tax incentive program. “These programs combined awarded $11 billion to New Jersey corporations for more than a decade for woefully insufficient returns, costing the state a whopping $1 billion this year alone...Now, the Legislature has called for more legislative hearings to hear from invited guests only on these programs. These hearings once again have  shut out the public and a wide range of experts who must be allowed to participate in this vital process,” a statement from the group reads. [American Prospect; North Jersey.com; Insider New Jersey]

RANKED CHOICE VOTING | Twelve initiative petitions were approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General this week. One of the initiatives will have voters consider ranked choice voting, a system in which voters could rank their candidates in order of preference. If no candidate in an election wins more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes would have their votes divided amongst other candidates based on voters’ next highest choices until one candidate reaches a majority threshold. In 2016, voters in Maine approved an initiative to enact ranked choice voting in the elections for governor, state legislature, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House, making it the first state to do so. If approved by Massachusetts voters, the initiative would implement the system in 2022 for "primary and general elections for all Massachusetts statewide offices, state legislative offices, federal congressional offices, and certain other offices.” Organizers of the petition now have three months to gather signatures from more than 80,000 voters, after which the legislature can consider the issue; the idea is rejected by lawmakers, supporters can gather additional signatures to place the item on the 2020 ballot. The proposal already has support from at least 80 lawmakers, according to Mac D’Alessandro, state director of Voter Choice Massachusetts. "Massachusetts voters want a stronger voice when we cast our ballots and it’s just common sense to make sure that our elected leaders are supported by a true majority. We’re excited to bring more voice and more choice into our elections by creating this new option for voters,” he said. [WBUR; New England Public Radio; New England Daily News]

POLITICAL AWARENESS | A new study from Marquette University revealed that half of registered voters in Wisconsin don’t recognize the two most powerful legislators in the state. The poll showed that 49% of voters hadn’t heard of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and 52% of voters didn’t know Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Poll director Charles Franklen said that the Republicans only represent about 5% of the state’s population. "[This is] such a testament of how little attention people pay or are informed about what goes on in the state Capitol," he said. Vos did not seem concerned about the results, though. "I'm more than happy to be in the background getting things done for conservatives and making sure Governor (Tony) Evers doesn't screw up our state by enacting any of his very liberal agenda!" he tweeted. Evers, a Democrat, had a 54% approval rating in the poll, higher than former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, ever achieved. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

HELPING POLICE | California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill this week striking down a law from 1872 that makes it a crime for any “able-bodied person 18 years of age or older” to refuse a police officer’s request for help. The law was originally intended to force residents to assist law enforcement in looking for runaway slaves, but was cited as precedent as recently as 2014. State Sen. Bob Hertzberg wrote the new repeal law, saying the previous one was “a vestige of a bygone era” that subjected Californians to “an untenable moral dilemma,” and thanked his staff for bringing the issue to his attention. "Thank you to my interns for finding a law that belongs in the history books, not the law books," he said. The bill was opposed by the California State Sheriff’s Association. “There are situations in which a peace officer might look to private persons for assistance in matters of emergency or risks to public safety and we are unconvinced that this statute should be repealed,” the group said. [Sacramento Bee; The Hill; CNN]

MAYORAL DUTIES | New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is being criticized for his schedule and perceived inattention to mayoral duties. Residents of New York have been critical of de Blasio for the way he has balanced his run for president with his job in New York, which pays him $260,000 per year and lets him stay rent free at a mayor’s residence. Criticism arose this week because it was revealed that de Blasio had spent only 11 hours at City Hall during the entire month of May. “When someone has an office and they run for another office you’re going to put time into your campaign while doing your current office. That’s what I’ve been doing. You just make choices,” de Blasio said at a news conference. He insisted that he had taken the same number of meetings as usual, just in places other than City Hall. But some city councilors say that appearances matter. “It’s hard to show leadership in New York City when you’re hiking in the mountains of Nevada,” City Councilman Mark Treyger said, referencing a recent trip the mayor took. [CBS New York]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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