BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Amid unprecedented State House drama, Norcross defends tax breaks for his hometown

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Tuesday’s State House hearing saw two firsts. For one, it was the first time the powerful South Jersey Democrat George Norcross has ever testified before a Legislative panel; secondly, it was the first time in recent memory that an activist has been dragged out of the hearing room physically by the state police.

The latter happened after committee chairman Bob Smith ejected a whole row of spectators, both pro- and anti-tax incentives.

Sue Altman, the activist for NJ Working Families Alliance, had hinted something like this might happen at a press conference earlier in the day.

“And there’s no opportunity for community voice, and so when democracy fails, and when our Senate leadership here today is probably not going to ask the hard questions they should ask,” said Altman. “When those two failures happen, people show up and are angry and you’ll probably see some disruption today.”

When Norcross got up to testify, the activists chanted, “Take down King George.”

Gov. Murphy, who has been sparring with Norcross over tax incentives, reacted to Sue Altman’s ejection.

“The removal, as forcefully as it happened, of Sue Altman out of this hearing today, is completely outrageous and unacceptable and every Senator on that committee owes her a direct apology,” said Murphy.

Norcross has helped steer hundreds of millions of dollars to the city of Camden through EDA tax incentives, and he’s proud of it.

“I am here today to speak for myself. Not through lawyers or spokespeople,” said Norcross. “To defend Camden and to correct many misstatements, mischaracterizations and outright mistruths that are having a serious negative impact on the revitalization of our city.”

Norcross said Camden’s streets are safer and its schools are better.

“Nothing would have occurred in Camden without these tax incentive programs. They did precisely what they were designed by the Legislature and the governor,” said Norcross.

Murphy keeps saying the state has spent $11 billion on the program, but Norcross says it’s a small fraction of that.

“Most people who read about the incentive program are under the false impression that the state of New Jersey writes a check from the General Treasury for the amount of the award and hands it to you on day one,” said Norcross. “That is completely false, the company relocating and receiving a grant award, in general, puts up 100% of the money, until perhaps year four, where they first qualify if they met the requirements of the EDA in job retention and creation to receive their first 10% award in a tax credit.”

A Murphy appointed task force is investigating tax incentives, and it says $1.1 billion went to Norcross’s insurance firm, the hospital whose board he chairs and businesses associated with him.

Norcross ripped that task force Monday and said he’s been asking businesses to move to Camden for a decade now.

“Those who said ‘yes’ believe in a better Camden,” said Norcross. “They took great risks, personal and business, to help support the city. They do not deserve to be smeared and attacked by uninformed critics and dark money-funded groups.”

One State House veteran said it was a high risk move for Norcross to come testify.

As for his new critic Sue Altman, she was charged with disturbing the peace and has a court appearance at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.