BUSINESS & ECONOMY

As state nears fiscal cliff, New Jersey business leaders step up

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

No matter who you talk to in Trenton, almost everyone has the same goal, and it echoes Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan to create a stronger and fairer economy. But the vision for that varies, and so does agreement on the right path to get there. That’s why the business community decided to step in.

“What we’re trying to do is take the best of what the governor’s trying to do, and the Legislature’s trying to, and some of our own ideas and put them together in a plan that is sort of a best practices that are things that have been talked about, that are doable,” said Tom Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, an underwriter of NJTV News.

Thursday’s event unveiled an extension of the grassroots nonpartisan coalition known as Opportunity NJ, which is made up of trade groups, employers and businesses. The group is forming the state’s first ever Economic Development and Advisory Council.

“The goal of our council will be to educate the New Jersey marketplace on our planned components, get feedback from the audiences on their needs, and provide the results to the administration and the legislative leaders to assist them with program and policies that we hope will grow our economy at a faster pace than it’s currently growing,” said Bracken.

“This coalition represents over 2.5 million jobs in the state of New Jersey. So here’s a great example, NJBIA we do a lot of research here to help inform. When our business partners can leverage our voice that speaks tenfold,” Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said.

Siekerka says it comes at a critical time while New Jersey dances around a fiscal cliff.

“Our long term debt has increased 382% over the last decade. At the same time our expenses increased 45% while our revenue only increased 23%. Now some would like to say that means we have a revenue problem. Absolutely not,” she said.

First the council will address outdated legacy systems. They say they have a plan to curtail debt for pension and retiree benefits, infrastructure spending and school funding.

“Before you raise new revenue you make sure you have the leanest, meanest machine that can have so that every dollar you bring in goes right to your bottom line,” said Siekerka. “In the state of New Jersey right now, every new dollar we bring in its like opening your window with the air conditioning on.”

After that the focus shifts to job growth and helping lawmakers understand if their policies would help or hurt job growth by using analytics long before the policy is passed. The council then plans to tackle regulatory reform, the incentive programs at the center of scrutiny, and preparing the future workforce.

“We’re not going to have 100% agreement on everything we propose, we know that, but we have a healthy agreement that we will agree to disagree,” Bracken said.

Bracken says they’ve already had multiple talks with both the administration and legislative leaders. Recruitment for the council members begins immediately. With a lapsed tax incentive program and a looming debt crisis, the time to act, they say, is now.