Taxes top chamber’s 2016 policy agenda: Estate tax, Transportation Trust Fund will be key legislative issues

Trenton has had its fair share of quiet days in the past several months. In just the last month, deals have been brokered over hot-button topics like northern New Jersey casinos and the looming threat of municipal bankruptcy in Atlantic City. And yet on other seemingly persistent issues, like pension reform and the Transportation Trust Fund, some lawmakers appear further apart than ever before. So, what’s on the docket for the business community in 2016? New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Michael Egenton recently sat down with NJBIZ to go over the legislative items his organization will be closely following over the coming months.

NJBIZ: What’s on the top of your list?

Egenton: I’ll probably start first with the state budget. That’s always paramount to us. … We’re going to obviously keep an eye on that, and that always has big implications for the business community. We also need to show that we’re doing some tax reform here in New Jersey, the estate tax is absolutely at the top of the ticket

NJBIZ: So much of the discussion around the estate tax has been in connection to proposals for a gas tax increase to help replenish the Transportation Trust Fund. Should they be paired?

Egenton: Those are two key issues that can stand on their own. Negations are conducted by the legislature and the governor’s office. Both are critical issues and both need to get done. One should not be sacrificed for the other. In regard to the estate tax and back to the bduget, the goal is to eventually eliminate it.

NJBIZ: Where are you on pensions right now?

Egenton: We are very vocal about it. We need to all sit down in a stakeholder process and review the issue and find some kind of resolution. That needs to be communicated.

NJBIZ: what are some other areas of focus right now?

Egenton: Health care and the delivery of affordable insurance for our members and giving them the choice of quality and delivery. And of course, energy and creating opportunities to have a sufficient supply of energy sources.

NJBIZ: We’ve also talked in the past about workforce development.

Egenton: I think we need to ramp up our competition and match our skills required by our employers with academia. I’d like to see more students stay here in NJ. I don’t know what the answer is to that.

NJBIZ: No one wants to hurt business, but lawmakers don’t always agree on how to help them. How do you toe the line between supporting legislation and opposing it?

Egenton: we always support proposals that help grow jobs and the economy. And we will also stand up for our members and voice our concern or opposition if it creates undue burden, overregulation and mandates on our employers.



Our trip to work is getting worse and our roads stink, N.J. commuters lament 2/8/2016

About 20 percent of NJ Transit riders said they were considering ditching mass transit in favor of their cars, which would flood the state’s already-congested roadways with more than 180,000 additional vehicles, according to a recent poll by AAA. The culprit, riders say, is a 9 percent fare hike that took effect in October, even as 65 percent of transit riders polled saying their commute worsened in the last two years. But if those transit commuters take to the road instead, they shouldn’t expect smooth sailing, as 59 percent of New Jersey drivers ranked state highways in fair or poor condition. Even worse, 71 percent of drivers said their local roads were in fair or poor condition. In Nov. 2013, when AA conducted the previous poll, 37 percent of drivers asked said their commute had gotten worse, with congestion being the major culprit. AAA conducts a survey every two years. The full results of the survey will be discussed today at a noon Statehouse press conference with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Loretta Weinberg. The state’s toll roads and interstates fared much better in the survey, with 58 percent of drivers ranked major interstate highways as being in excellent to good condition and 65 percent of driver polled ranking toll roads the same. Lewis said part of the disparity is due to funding, as toll roads have a steady source of revenue for highway maintenance and upgrade. Municipalities, meanwhile have to apply for local aid grants from the state or use property taxes to fund local roadwork, and Lewis stated, “We’re seeing the impact of the Transportation Trust Fund.”

Take Mr. Obama’s Oil Free Proposal Seriously 2/7/16

In his new budget proposal, Mr. Obama is proposing a $10-per-barrel fee on oil, which would translate into about 24 cents per gallon of refined gasoline. He would spend the proceeds on the Highway Trust Fund and on “green” transportation: rapid bus lines, electric-car charging stations, big rail projects and so forth. The problem is that the proposal is coming when the political risks for the president are virtually nonexistent. Repeatedly, during Mr. Obama’s two terms, Congress had to deal with funding the country’s roads and rails. Repeatedly, the president shied away from supporting the most reasonable remedy: raising the federal gasoline tax to keep up with inflation and infrastructure needs. The case for taxing crude oil or refined gasoline in order to pay for transportation infrastructure begins with fairness: Those who use the roads should help pay for them. At $10 a barrel, much of the social harm that burning oil does by contributing to climate change would be built into its price.  In fact, the proposal would be better if the fee were higher: Resources for the Future’s Alan J. Krupnick says that it should be $15 to fully account for climate harms. Then there are other major social costs — ambient air pollution, traffic gridlock — that could fairly be factored in, too. And Congress should not stop with oil; every fuel should be taxed commensurate with the harm it does to the climate. When oil prices spiked in years past, Americans cut unnecessary trips and bought more fuel-efficient cars. Now that gas is cheap, Americans are once again buying gas-guzzlers. If it cost more to pollute, Americans would pollute less.

Barnegat Bay Needs to be Put on ‘Pollution Diet’ to Limit Runoff, Bill Argues 2/8/16

Still worried about the long-term health of Barnegat Bay, lawmakers are once again looking to the state to take more aggressive action to curb the amount of pollutants flowing into the waterway. This afternoon (Feb. 8), the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee is expected consider legislation (A-2404) that would direct the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study of the bay, and if it determines it is impaired, to develop a so-called pollution diet to limit runoff into its waters. The bill is identical to a measure already approved by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and similar to another bill previously conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie and eventually died five years ago. Barnegat Bay, a widely recognized jewel of the Jersey Shore and a critical cog in the state’s multibillion dollar tourism industry along the coast, has longstanding problems jeopardizing its viability. The bay has been overloaded with nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous. That leads to eutrophication, which results in rapid algae blooms that upset the bay’s delicate ecological balance. The process causes a sharp decline in eel grass, an important habitat for marine life, steep drops in clam populations, and an increase in sea nettles, a type of jellyfish, that has made impossible to wade or swim in some parts of the shallow bay. Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), who is a sponsor of the Senate version, said it is now time to act when the bill came up for a vote in his committee. Environmentalists generally backed the bill, saying the failure to try and control runoff into the bay is a universally recognized problem that needs to be addressed

Bankers Not Quite Bullish, But They’re More Optimistic About NJ Economic Outlook 2/8/16

New Jersey enjoyed its best year for private-sector job growth in over a decade last year, and the state’s banking community is not expecting those strong economic conditions to take a tumble any time soon in 2016. Still, they say they’re feeling better about the national economy over the next six months than they are about New Jersey’s. Less than one out of every 10 members responding to the New Jersey Bankers Association’s latest annual economic survey said they’re expecting conditions in the state to weaken over the next six months, while roughly eight out of 10 said they’re expecting conditions to generally stay the same. But at the same time, only 12 percent graded New Jersey’s economic conditions as better than fair, compared to 40 percent for the national economy, according to the results of the survey released Friday (Feb. 5). The survey results come on the heels of New Jersey’s best year for private-sector job growth since 2000, with federal labor statistics showing the state added 64,500 private-sector jobs over the course of 2015. Still, the bankers’ survey results provide another sign of general optimism about the state’s economy, largely echoing sentiments gauged in a recent poll of the state’s broader business community conducted late last year by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. The addition of 64,500 private-sector jobs in 2015 more than the doubled the 31,200 private-sector jobs added in 2014, according to a report prepared along with the survey results by Rutgers University professors James Hughes and Marc Weiner. Unemployment here dropped to 5.1 percent at the end of December, the professors’ report noted. And on Friday, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the federal unemployment rate dropped to 4.9 percent in January, the lowest U.S. jobless average since 2008.