Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-29) announced last week that he will be retiring from the Assembly when his term ends in January instead of seeking reelection. Before he leaves office, however, he will likely get to see the Economic Opportunity Act pass. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he actually decided to retire from the Assembly July 4 but wanted to finish work on the legislation first.
Coutinho suffered a heart attack in June. He said he’s doing better, following doctor’s orders and hopes to make a full recovery.
Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the Economic Opportunity Act and members of the Assembly agreed to his recommendations today. The legislation aims to provide better tax incentive programs for businesses in the state.
While Coutinho said he was “mildly disappointed” by the governor’s conditional veto, he wasn’t surprised by the conditions. “For the last 14 months, we’ve been working on a bipartisan basis — Democrats, Republicans, adminstration, stakeholders throughout the entire state of New Jersey — to do this revamping of the state’s entire incentive program. So whenever you do a project of this size, there’s gonna be things that people are a little bit disappointed,” he said. “The reality is this is a great day for the state of New Jersey because it shows that unlike Washington, we’re able to work together in an election year nonetheless — Democrats, Republicans, the legislature and the administration — together with major stakeholders to really do a historic piece of legislation.”
The Senate is expected to act on the legislation Thursday. If it passes and becomes law, Coutinho explained that it will simplify the incentive programs and make them easier to use. “We went from five major programs down to two. We tried to focus more on on job creation and less on capital expenditure. So you’re gonna see more news about the state of New Jersey and EDA [Economic Development Authority] giving out a lot smaller awards to more companies because we’re gonna make it easier for small and medium sized companies that exist in New Jersey to access our state incentive programs,” he said.
Coutinho said 85 percent of the jobs in New Jersey are at small to medium sized companies. He hopes that the incentives will mean lower unemployment and more growth in small and medium sized companies. “At the same time we do have large incentives to try to attract companies from out of state as we had previously. So I think this is a win-win for the state,” he said.
An important aspect of the new legislation, according to Coutinho, is that companies must pass a net benefit text, which means the incentive program pays for itself. “This will not cost the taxpayers one penny,” he said. “We’re making agreements with companies. They say they’re gonna invest X amount of dollars, create Y amount of jobs and will generate Z amount of revenue. After they certify they have in fact done that, we give them a portion of that new tax revenue that they’re investment created back so that we can help create economic development in our state and put more New Jerseyans back to work.”
Coutinho said his retirement from the Assembly was for personal and health reasons. “I made this decision actually over the Fourth of July weekend but I couldn’t leave without getting this bill through because there’s been so much time and effort done. So now I can at least somewhat leave in peace whenever the time comes,” he said. “When you have a heart attack at 44, that’s not supposed to happen. So I have been doing some serious thinking and priorities will be taking care of me and my family for now.”
The Essex County Democratic Committee will be choosing a replacement for Coutinho. He said he would like to see Eliana Pintor Marin, former chair of the Newark Board of Education, as his successor. He explained she has a master’s degree from St. John’s with a finance background and knows about urban education issues. In addition to her qualifications, Coutinho said Marin is from the East Ward so geographic diversity would be maintained.
“I think she’s a very, extremely qualified young woman,” Coutinho said. “That’s who I’m hoping will be able to get my spot. And she has my full support.”