Tracking Legislation and Other Items Important to the Business Community:
Department of Environmental Protection
On April 15, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection presented its budget to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The DEP's budget for the state's fiscal year beginning July 1 is $346.9 million, a 3 percent decrease from this year's budget of $358.2 million. The department's overall staffing will remain at its current level of 2,812 full-time employees. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said the department is continuing to prioritize programs and staffing to meet their primary environmental protection goals.
Commissioner Martin said his department will continue to focus on meeting the needs of post-Sandy recovery and rebuilding. DEP has overseen the removal of over 8 million cubic yards of household debris, sand and boats from the land and waterways. The department is also ensuring that water systems and wastewater plants damaged by Sandy are restored, working in partnership with the Environmental Infrastructure Trust to secure low-cost financing for rebuilding efforts. Additionally, the Commissioner said the state intends to spend approximately $259 million in federal hazard mitigation funding to buy out Sandy-damaged properties.
Department of Health
On April 17, Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd testified before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing regarding the Department of Health's $1.9 billion proposed budget. She said the department will dedicate more than $1 billion to hospitals and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). In addition, FQHCs will be supplemented with $50 million to support care for the uninsured.
Commissioner O'Dowd discussed the two hospitals and 11 long-term care facilities that were forced to evacuate, while FQHCs remained closed, in the days following Hurricane Sandy. The commissioner held a series of roundtables in Ocean, Monmouth, Hudson, and Bergen counties to assess lessons learned and to ensure best practices for an emergency-disaster situation. Additionally, Commissioner O'Dowd highlighted the recovery efforts of the department including a public awareness campaign on the dangers of mold as well as information and free training on correct remediation.
Department of Labor and Workforce Development
On April 17, the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development presented its budget to the Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee. The department's proposed fiscal year budget is $933 million, an increase of .1% from the current year budget. The Unemployment Insurance Compensation Trust Fund (UI trust fund) will have a balance of $226 million at the beginning of the fiscal year. The fund anticipates revenues of $4.9 billion in FY 2014 and expenditures of $3.92 billion for benefits and administrative costs. The balance at the end of the next fiscal year is anticipated to be $1.29 billion. As of March 12, 2013, the UI trust fund had an outstanding debt of $1.1 billion owed to the federal government. The department estimates that the state will pay off this loan by May 2014.
Commissioner Wirths said New Jersey obtained a $15.6 million National Emergency Grant to place more than 750 unemployed New Jersey residents into temporary jobs in 16 counties in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The Department of Environmental Protection is also using the grant to hire up to 80 residents to repair damage to some of the Garden State's most precious assets, including state parks. Additionally, the department secured Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance aid for self-employed residents who lost their business in the storm or who are temporarily out of work. About 39,000 people have taken advantage of that assistance.
Economic Development Authority
On April 23, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) told the Assembly Budget Committee it has used more than $1 billion in tax credits and has leveraged an estimated $2.2 billion of private investment, which spurred the creation and retention of thousands of jobs. In 2012, the NJEDA finalized nearly $700 million in assistance to support 228 projects. Support was provided to small business in need of capital to maintain or expand operations. Recently the NJEDA approved three residential projects under the HUB program that support the NJEDA's commitment to economic growth in urban centers. These projects will stimulate $625 million dollars in private investment and create more than a million square feet in residential space - nearly 50,000 square feet of commercial space, and more than 160,000 square feet of academic space. This project will result in 1600 construction job and three transformational residential projects - two in Jersey City and one in New Brunswick.
NJEDA CEO Michele Brown said 113 municipalities incurred $382 million in commercial property loss and another $63.9 million in business interruption loss following Sandy. As a result, economic recovery and revitalization is a top priority for New Jersey. Under the state's Action Plan, the NJEDA will administer $500 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to small businesses. The program will provide grants up to $50,000 to small businesses. Funds could be used to cover costs related to rehabilitation, equipment, inventory, mitigation or working capital. The NJEDA will offer no- and low-cost loans ranging up to $5 million to assist small businesses that suffered physical damage, as well as to spur economic revitalization. Further, the NJEDA is working towards hiring marketing and advertising firms to help design a large-scale marketing and advertising campaign to promote storm-impacted businesses and shore communities by letting the nation know that New Jersey is open for business.
Streamlining Economic Incentives - A-3680
(Coutinho/D-29; Singleton/D-7; Watson Coleman/D-15; Ramos/D-33; Green/D-22; Bramnick/R-21; Bucco/R-25; Conaway/D-7):
Assembly committee passed with ammendments. Consolidates the Grow New Jersey Assistance program, the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant program (ERGG), and the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program to create a single business incentive program administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The State Chamber believes enhancing the state's incentive programs will benefit small businesses in New Jersey, attract larger businesses to the State, and encourage new entrepreneurs, making New Jersey a formidable competitor in both the national and global economy.
Assembly Budget Committee A-3680 Vote: Prieto, Vincent (C) - Yes; Schaer, Gary S. (V) - Yes; Brown, Christopher J. - Yes; Bucco, Anthony M. - Yes; Burzichelli, John J. - Yes; Coutinho, Albert - Yes; Johnson, Gordon M. - Yes; O'Scanlon, Declan J. - Yes; Singleton, Troy - Yes; Watson Coleman, Bonnie - Yes; Webber, Jay - No; Wimberly, Benjie E. - Yes
Governor issued an absolute veto on April 15. Revises the definition of "public works projects" to permit project labor agreements for more projects. As detailed in many published academic research studies and independent reports, Union-only Project Labor Agreements discourage competition from nonunion contractors, reduces the number of potential bidders and potentially increases costs to taxpayers. In his veto message, Governor Christie said he vetoed the legislation because it could negatively impact efforts to rebuild and recover from Superstorm Sandy.
Thumbs up and down indicates the Chamber's support or opposition to issues. Call the New Jersey Chamber Government Relations Department at (609) 989-7888 with questions or comments.