From the Halls of Trenton: Gas Tax, Referendums, Election Results & More

By Hoboken Strategy Group

So much has happened since we last checked in.  Let’s get right into it.

statecapIf you have filled up your gas tank since November 1, you may have noticed that the State has increased the gas tax through the re-authorization of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  The TTF had run out of funding over the summer and Governor Chris Christie halted all transportation-related construction projects which had been funded with TTF funding.  As a result, projects such as the Park Avenue Bridge rehabilitation were halted until a TTF resolution was instituted.

Late in the day on Friday afternoon, September 30, Governor Chris Christie, alongside Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, announced a bipartisan agreement for the future of the TTF along with the State’s first broad-based tax cut since 1994.  The Legislature approved legislation associated with this agreement the following week and Governor Christie signed it into law on October 14.

The bipartisan compromise for the replenishment of the TTF would provide dedicated funding of $2 billion per year through an increase in the gas tax by 23 cents per gallon while also authorizing up to $12 billion in borrowing for an 8-year period.  Fiscal estimates have shown that the gas tax increase will cost the average New Jerseyan between $184 and $276 per year.  However, the State Department of Transportation and NJ Transit have estimated that the average New Jersey driver spends approximately $600 per year on vehicle repairs caused by the State’s current road conditions.

On the tax cut side, the compromise includes:

  • A reduction in the sales tax from 7% to 6.875% on January 1, 2017, followed by a further reduction to 6.625% on January 1, 2018
  • An increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor from 30% to 35%
  • A $3,000 personal income tax exemption for all New Jersey veterans honorably discharged from active duty in the military or National Guard
  • An increase in the tax exclusion on retirement income to $100,000 for joint filers, $75,000 for individuals, and $50,000 for filers married but filing separately.
  • A phase out of the Estate Tax over the next two years, replacing the current $675,000 threshold with a $2 million exclusion after January 1, 2017 and the elimination of the tax altogether as of January 1, 2018.

After a long wait, transportation and infrastructure projects will receive the State funding necessary to advance.   With increases in aid to counties and local governments, long-awaited improvements to the area’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems can be initiated.

Election Day 2016 is now behind us.  While New Jersey voters supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with 55% of the vote, Donald Trump earned 290 electoral votes to become President (compared to 228 electoral votes for Secretary Clinton).  President-elect Trump has initiated the Presidential transition process.  In the coming weeks, we can expect to learn the President-elect’s choices for Cabinet-level positions and White House senior staff.

President-elect Trump will be working with Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives.  Here in Hudson County, voters easily re-elected our Congressional representatives, Congressman Albio Sires (D-8), Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-9) and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10).  And just in case you are in election overload, get ready because in New Jersey, 2017 will feature a gubernatorial election along with all 120 seats in the State Legislature and several other local offices up for election.

This year, voters in the State split in deciding two statewide ballot questions.  Voters overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to the State Constitution to allow for casino gambling in two additional counties in the State, 78% to 22%.  As you know, casino gambling is only allowed in Atlantic City.  This amendment would have allowed the Legislature to permit casino gambling in two other counties in the State.  Under the amendment, only one casino per county would be allowed and would be located at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.  Speaking of Atlantic City, a share of revenue from the operation of the casinos would have been used for the recovery, stabilization or improvement of Atlantic City, with the remaining portion of the State’s revenue dedicated to programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents.

The demise of this ballot question seemed inevitable for at least the past month when groups supporting the amendment pulled funding for an advertising campaign following a Stockton University poll showing 71% of voters opposed, 24% in favor and 5% undecided.  In anticipation of defeat, proponents pledged before Election Day to explore getting the question on the ballot in a future election.

The State’s other ballot question, which was approved 51% to 49% dedicates all of the State’s gasoline and motor fuels tax revenue to transportation funding.  The purpose of this amendment would be to constitutionally guarantee that the revenue collected could not be diverted to purposes other than the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  With the 23 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, this ballot question faced an uphill battle with opponents of the amendment under a number of misconceptions including that the increase would be eliminated with the rejection of the ballot question and a theory that the amendment would authorize an additional $12 billion in borrowing.  The fact is that the gas tax increase could only be repealed by the Legislature and, as we noted earlier, the authorization of up to $12 billion in borrowing was a part of the TTF legislation.  So as a result of the approval of this ballot question, motorists can rest assured that the additional money they are paying per gallon is going to transportation-related purposes and nothing else.

A lot has happened in the past few months around and beyond Trenton.  As our nation prepares for a new presidential administration and our State gears up for a gubernatorial election, 2017 looks to be an exciting year, we will keep you up to date on all of the action From the Halls of Trenton!

Hoboken Strategy Group is a boutique New Jersey government relations and business development firm made up of public affairs professionals with years of experience handling legislative and regulatory challenges on the local, state and federal levels.  Kay Elizabeth LiCausi, President of Hoboken Strategy Group, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.  Michael J. Comba serves as Vice President of Hoboken Strategy Group.  They can be reached online at www.hobokenstrategy.com and on Facebook at Hoboken Strategy Group.

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HarrisonRand Know-How: 3 Easy Steps to Get Your Content Marketing Moving

By Jason Rand, Harrison Rand

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What would you like to read about in Jason’s next post? Email your suggestions to Jason@HarrisonRand.com

Our last post explored ways to boost social engagement. Now, it’s time to put those tips to work and begin some basic planning of an integrated content marketing strategy. Research shows that “content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads”. Content marketing is defined as a program that centers on creating, publishing, and distributing content to target audiences — usually online —  with the goal of attracting new customers.  According to a recent Demand Gen Report survey 47 percent of B2B buyers consume three to five content pieces before engaging with a business. Yet, more than 70 percent of marketers lack a consistent content strategy. It’s clear that having a defined content strategy is critical to long term business health in a competitive landscape.

As the pace of marketing and business accelerates, having an effective, integrated, sustainable content marketing strategy has never been more important. The challenge is with so much information available online, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

 #1 Getting started

Explore the value of the services or mission of the business or organization and then look at the target audience against an annual calendar. Now, look at the competition and see what they’re doing or not doing. Identify areas which may be weaknesses for them and think about how to do it better. This important step can help guide the process of building out a grid to organize your efforts and effectively integrate and track opportunities along with content initiatives throughout the year. Compile lists of topics which are unique, interesting and relevant and break them into two categories. Compile another list of all the target markets to be engaged through these efforts.

 TIP: Consistency in a topic through a cycle will streamline the process and lead to greater audience engagement and less confusion.

  • List one: Timely topics such as news, market cycles and events. For example, the health care industry’s need to address changes in insurance coverage and developments in the field or a not-for-profit’s participation in Giving Tuesday.
  • List two: Ideas for content which are focused on broader topics which are core to the brand. For example, real estate developers using video to address a project’s design philosophy or approach to urban planning.

Once the lists are complete, begin distributing the content throughout the grid to determine when the best time is during the year to develop and deploy everything.

TIP: Break the calendar into quarters to help simply the process and make it less stressful.

#2 Choosing channels

Selecting where content should live is largely determined by a combination of factors such as audience behavior and engagement levels in context to the types of services provided. Below is an overview of some of the most effective:

  • Blogs: Many businesses don’t consider blogs, but they have been proven significant influencers of SEO, as well as, great ways to engage audiences around specific keyword sensitive topics in a timely fashion. For example: Recent changes in tax structures in the state are a great subject for an accounting or law firm to publish
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin all have different often overlapping audiences along with their own unique strengths and weaknesses to consider.
  • Email: B2C email marketing is a cornerstone of online shopping. Every day brands deploy millions of emails to promote sales and new products. B2B strategies pivot on this idea by providing valuable insight and advice as “the product”. Round out the integrated content marketing plan by deploying an email strategy to coincide and support blog content. The correct coordination can lead to big results in lead generation.

TIP: Research and develop the content which resonates best with audiences. Good content can be used effectively and efficiently across all platforms. For example: One video of a real estate developer’s interview discussing a new project can be used across all channels with the modification of copy.

#3 Setting up measurement systems

Managing the scheduling and tracking content performance is the critical final stage of building a plan. Research optimal times to deploy emails and post on Facebook or Instagram. All platforms today provide metrics such as open rate, CTR (click through rate), and engagement. The measurement of these initiatives provides insight and understanding into how content is being consumed to determine an ROI. Also, important in this process, is the opportunity it provides to identify positive patterns to be replicated and negative ones to be eliminated. For example: A video post that performed extremely well along with a high engagement rate will see significant sharing as well. If an audience likes it, make more.

Conclusion:

I hope that this overview has been helpful and provided a foundational understanding of the building blocks for an effective content marketing program. Being a successful content marketer isn’t complex, but it does take a large degree of effort and a commitment to consistency and learning.

Most importantly, practice is key. Tracking content performance through trial and error will yield a road map to success.

Please let me know how it goes and what you’d like to see in our next post: email me at Jason@HarrisonRand.com

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HarrisonRand Know-How: 5 Proven Winners to Supercharge Your Facebook Engagement

By Jason Rand, HarrisonRand

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Our newest contributing blogger, Jason Rand, HarrisonRand

Welcome to my first blog post. Hudson County Chamber President & CEO, Maria Nieves, and I developed this new blog in the hope that it will become a valuable resource to Chamber Members seeking insight into proven and innovative ways to market businesses today. For regional and national businesses, Social Media provides an unparalleled opportunity to target audiences, drive traffic to events, showcase newsworthy content, promote sales, generate leads and educate your community about the services and value you provide.

Capitalizing on all this opportunity, however, in the ever changing Social world has proven challenging for many businesses due to the various changes in audience behavior, ongoing platform modifications and an ever expanding community of users who are being exposed to literally millions of updates per day by various brands and messages. With so much competition online for attention, we thought it would be helpful to explore some easy to implement strategies to make sure that you are engaging your audiences as effectively as possible.

#1 Ask Questions

Facebook is all about starting conversations. Imagine yourself in a room with a group of people you want to get to know better. For example, let’s look at Hudson County as a topic and see how to start the conversation. Here are some examples.

  • Specific: What’s your favorite part about living in Hudson County?
  • Timely: Today is the founding of Jersey City, how are you celebrating?
  • True or False: Bayonne is named after a region in France
  • Events: Who is attending Legends Ball 9?
  • Preference: What is your favorite place to eat in Hudson County?
  • Photo: Ask for a caption!

TIP: Don’t be disappointed if you only get a couple of answers in the beginning. Keep asking the right questions and you’ll be on your way to boosting your engagement. Don’t forget to add photos if appropriate, they can really make a difference.

#2 Try boost and/or pin features

Gone are the days of “organic reach” when you posted an update or an event and your members saw your content. Facebook’s every changing content distribution algorithm has proven one of the most challenging hurtles for businesses. However, Facebook does offer a number of very effective tools such as pinning and boosting to help you promote your content to your existing page members as well as target new audiences.

  • Pinning is free and will move your post to the top of your Page’s Timeline and an icon will appear on the post. Your pinned post will stay at the top of your Page’s Timeline for 7 days. After that, it’ll return to the date it was published on your Page’s Timeline.
  • Boosting will require some budget allocation depending on the size of your desired target market. These strategies have proven to be extremely effective to target regional audiences and the reach can be enormous based on your budget.  To learn more about the process: https://www.facebook.com/business/learn/

TIP: Be sure to track your efforts to see how many likes, shares and clicks you get. If you’re going to begin boosting it’s always a good idea to start off conservatively and then add to your budget based on performance. Maybe try boosting two posts with different content to the same audience and see which performs better.

#3 Timing is Everything

Timing matters when it comes to posting. Collectively, there are 31.25 million messages shared every minute—half a million messages each second!  Knowing when to engage with your audience is critical. Taking into account work schedules and commuting times, studies have shown that posting at either 12 PM or after 7 PM is best, with Thursday considered to be the best day of the week for traffic.

TIP: As mobility continues to rise and Facebook refines its app, posting and engagement times will likely reflect a more diverse pattern of user behavior.

#4 Use (good) photography

It’s no secret that photos engage audiences, but did you know that posts with images see 2.3x more engagement than those without? Even more compelling is the gallery feature which allows users to create a portfolio of images. Uploading several photos in one post creates a gallery of thumbnails which entice users to click to enlarge.

TIP: Try testing a few different variations with albums for different events and/or products. Tracking your efforts here too can also prove helpful as you continue to engage your audiences

#5 Video

From the end of 2014, to the end of 2015, video on Facebook grew by a staggering 7 billion views per day. And this is only the beginning. Overall, the stats regarding engagement are compelling and although video may take some time, effort and some allocation of funds, it is proven to be worth it. For marketers, not only does video provide a deeper engagement opportunity with your brand and business, but it also generates up to 135% more organic reach that just photography!

TIP: Why not try “Facebook Live” for your next speaking engagement or event? People spend 3x more time watching Live video than non on Facebook.

I hope that you’ve found these useful and that soon you’ll be on your way to growing your Facebook audience. As you do, you’ll learn meaningful insights into your community and the value they place in your brand and business. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask them to share your message to help you grow!

Anything in particular you’d like us to write about? We want to hear from you! Email your suggestions to Jason@harrisonrand.com

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From the Halls of Trenton: It’s Back to Work for the NJ Legislature

statecapFrom the Halls of Trenton is a  regular feature of The Bottom Line, the eNewsletter of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. Thank you to Hoboken Strategy Group for partnering with us to keep our Members up to date on the action while focusing on legislation of interest to the business community.  

By  Hoboken Strategy Group

Fall means “Back to School” for school students, but it’s also “Back to Trenton” for our Legislature.  The Halls of Trenton are buzzing with rested lawmakers and lobbyists ready to get back to work.  As you shake the Jersey Shore sand off of your feet, let’s bring you up to speed on where we are in Trenton.

As expected, the New Jersey State Budget was approved in advance of the Constitutional deadline of July 1.  The Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly approved by the State’s spending measure mostly by party lines. Governor Christie had the final say on the spending plan, slashing $300 million in spending through his line-item veto authority granted under the State Constitution.  The $34.5 billion State Budget holds the line on taxes while also increasing the State’s contributions to government worker pensions.

In our last issue, we brought you up to speed on the current state of the reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  The good news is that you haven’t missed anything since our last issue.  The bad news is that the Legislature has yet to come to an agreement with the Governor’s Office on the details of the TTF reauthorization.

June 27 was a big day in Trenton with final votes expected on the State Budget and the TTF reauthorization.  While the Budget passed quickly, the TTF dragged on throughout the day.  By the middle of the afternoon, staff and lobbyists were grumbling that there were not enough votes in the Assembly to provide a veto-proof majority for the plan.  While Governor Christie stated that he supported the proposed 23 cent increase in the gas tax, his support hinged on a level of tax fairness through reductions in other taxes, which amounted to about an estimated $870 million in tax cuts. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick entered the Governor’s Office and hashed out an alternative agreement.  Their compromise called for the renewal of the TTF for an 8-year period rather than a 10-year period as originally proposed.   The originally agreed upon income tax cut for retirement income was joined by a new plan to reduce the current 7% sales tax.  Under the compromise, the sales tax would drop to 6.5 % on January 1, 2017 and fall again to 6% on January 1, 2018.

As the clock approached midnight, the Assembly approved their compromise TTF agreement.  Meanwhile, the Senate had already adjourned for the day.  The June 30 legislative session came and went without consideration of the TTF compromise.  A fiscal analysis of the proposal found that the one-cent sales tax cut combined with the new exemptions on retirement income would cost the State about $1.7 billion in revenue by Fiscal Year 2019.  Given the State’s current economic condition, legislators have been hesitant to cause that large of a hole in the State Budget.

Without an agreement to replenish the TTF, the Governor’s Office declared a state of emergency and released a list of project that will be shut down in order to conserve money left in the TTF.  The projects include nearly $775.6 million in NJ Department of Transportation projects as well as $2.7 billion worth of contracts managed by NJ Transit.  In Hudson County, 21 road projects have been shut down, including the Park Avenue Bridge connecting Hoboken and Weehawken as well as the JJ Braddock Park Roadway Improvement project in North Bergen.

While negotiations are ongoing, to date no agreement has been reached between the Governor and Legislature and the work shutdown remains in effect.  The shutdown has resulted in the loss of 4,200 jobs, $41 million in work stoppage costs, and $9 million in weekly lost sales and wages.  With the Legislature now back in session, there is hope that an agreement will be reached.

As a result of the TTF-stalemate, the Legislature did not advance a measure that would have placed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to mandate contributions to New Jersey’s public pension system.  The State’s pension system covering around 770,000 active and retired public employees is currently $43.8 billion in debt.  This constitutional amendment would have required the State to make quarterly increasing contributions into the pension fund through 2021.

On August 30, Governor Christie vetoed legislation which would have increased the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 immediately as well as increase the minimum wage over a four-year period to $15 per hour.  In vetoing the legislation, the Governor said that the measure was a radical increase which would “trigger an escalation of wages that will make doing business in New Jersey unaffordable.”

In response to the Governor’s veto of the minimum wage increase, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto pledged to introduce an amendment to the State Constitution to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.  The Senate Labor Committee was expected to consider the bill, SCR-1010, on the Legislature’s first day back in session on September 7, however, the bill was removed from the Committee’s agenda prior to the hearing.

Fall is here, but things are still hot under the golden dome of Trenton.  More to come, From the Halls of Trenton!

Hoboken Strategy Group is a boutique New Jersey government relations and business development firm made up of public affairs professionals with years of experience handling legislative and regulatory issues on the local, state and federal levels.  Kay Elizabeth LiCausi, President of Hoboken Strategy Group, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.  Michael J. Comba serves as Vice President of Hoboken Strategy Group.  They can be reached online at www.hobokenstrategy.com and on Facebook at Hoboken Strategy Group.

 

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6 Things Business Owners Can Learn from the Games

By Maria Nieves, President & CEO, IOM

For two weeks every four years we are treated to some of the greatest reality television on the planet (and I’m not talking about the presidential campaign).  The Olympic Games provide high drama, and a few interesting side bar stories, like few other shows can.  It’s among my favorite sporting events to watch.  And the Rio Games have lived up to my expectations.  The cast this year comprises more than 11,000 athletes hailing from 208 countries.

RioOlympicsPhotoWhile the athletes can perform super human feats and display the most amazingly fit physiques, their personal stories are always relatable. Whether they are stars like gymnast Simon Biles, swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt, or an athlete who competes in a lesser known sporting event, their victories and defeats are all equally mesmerizing.

The lessons we learn from these athletes are part of what make the Olympics such must-watch-TV for me.  As the Games come to a close this weekend, and we bid adieu to Rio’s beautiful vistas and diverse set of characters, I began to ponder on the lessons that business owners can take away from the latest edition of this sports tradition.

#1 – Pace Yourself – It’s Going to be a Long Haul

Being a business owner, like being an Olympian, is a long-haul proposition.  Athletes prepare many years for what is often a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  To get to the world’s biggest sporting stage, they test their chops in world competitions, and typically must achieve top three in the  trials of their respective countries in order to punch their ticket to the Games.  Once at the Olympics, there are rounds of games, matches, and qualifying races.  Even the top gymnasts in the world, such as the USA’s Final Five, need to “audition” at the Games by competing first in a qualifying round.  Athletes learn to pace themselves accordingly. They can’t leave it all in the pool or on the track in the first round.  They need to take just enough risk and expend just enough energy to qualify and then let loose in the finals.

Like runners and swimmers, business owners also need to pace themselves so they’ll have the focus and energy needed when it really counts. Entrepreneurs who have both passion and enthusiasm for their vision, often work long days, wear many hats, and sweat numerous details to bring their dream to fruition. And they often have to take care of many un-glamorous tasks before they reach their goal of building a sustainable business. It can be challenging to keep your eyes on the prize when going through all the hurdles (all these sports pun are fully intended!) of drafting a plan, registering a business, finding suppliers, identifying distribution channels, engaging investors and securing the capital to launch and grow, etc., etc., etc. So pace yourself. You’re in it for the long-haul.

#2 – Raw Talent is not Enough – You’ve Got to Hone Your Skills

World class athletes are certainly born with many unique physical assets. They may have the height needed to excel at a sport like volleyball or, on the opposite end, be shorter in stature, which would make them more suited for gymnastics. Perhaps they’ll have the long arm span needed by boxers and swimmers or an aptitude for great hand and eye coordination. Think of Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man and winner of back-to-back Olympic 100 meter races. He’s tall with long legs that help him to have a higher leg turnover rate than many of his competitors. Regardless of these natural gifts, however, world class athletes are not born. They are made over many years of workouts, training and competitions, which hone their technical skills, and build muscle and muscle memory. Experience also enables them to develop mental toughness. An ability to learn from failure is probably one of the most important skills any athlete can develop.

Like an athlete competing at the highest levels, you may have natural abilities that give you an edge as an entrepreneur and business owner, but you too will need to hone your skills as a leader and manager. You have to learn to manage the day-to-day while planning strategically, become a great communicator and develop your EQ to complement your IQ, as well as the mental toughness to persevere when things get tough. You need to make a commitment to continuously improve. This is also known as, practice, practice, practice. 

#3 – Find the Right Coach

More than likely you had never heard of South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk before these Games. He won the men’s 400 meter race in world record time. What makes his story particularly striking is his coach, 74 year-old Anna Botha, a great-grandmother of four with a head full of wavy white hair.  She doesn’t look like your typical track and field coach. Quite the opposite. But Botha’s philosophy is that you’re never too old to learn something new.  And she’s been the head track and field coach at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein since 1990!  When Van Niekerk enrolled there, he sought out Botha.  She helped him switch his focus from the 200 meter race to the 400 meter race after the Games in London in 2012 in order to help him protect against injuries.   The rest is now history.  Clearly she was the right coach at the right time for Van Niekerk.  A partnership made in sports heaven.

That’s what you want when you’re running your own business, especially if you’re running a small business: the right coaches and mentors at the right time. Be discerning but be open to coaching. Is this coach going to have your best interests in mind? Have they a unique perspective that can help you to make key transitions? Perhaps they’re not even in your industry or someone you might consider a likely coach. Remember that mentors come in all shapes and sizes.  Ultimately you want a coach who can push you to be your best self in business but also provide moral support.

#4 – Practice Sportsman- and Sportswomanship

It was a heartwarming scene when New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and the USA’s Abbey D’Agostino helped each other after falling to the track during their qualifying race in the women’s 5000 meter. The real-life drama unfolded when Hamblin tripped and tumbled to the ground, accidentally bringing D’Agostino down behind her. When D’Agostino got back to her feet, she didn’t just run off and leave Hamblin in her dust. She helped Hamblin up, despite the fact that D’Agostino had injured her ankle. They rallied each other to complete the race. 

Many sports are generally speaking, a zero-sum proposition. Lose a match and your team is bounced. There can only be one all-around gymnastics champion or decathlon winner. For me to win, you must lose and vice versa. It’s the rare, rare race that produces a tie for the top spot. That said, world class athletes know that their competitors are critical to helping them push further. You can compete against yourself, but that will only get you so far. There’s benefit to fostering respectful competition on and off the track.  In the end, sportsmanship helps to elevate the sport along with the athlete. And in the case of Hamblin and D’Agostino, they were unexpectedly rewarded for their sportswomanship by being granted two spots in the 5000 meter final.

Business may at times seem like a zero-sum game.  But I don’t believe it is or has to be. I encourage you to practice some business sportsmanship.  You want to be known as a connector and a giver, not a taker.  No one company can capture the entire market, nor does it need to.  The pie is big enough for all.  And you may find at times that there are prospective customers or projects that don’t make sense for you or your business. In those cases, help them and others in your industry by making a referral.  It’ll go a long way and will earn unexpected rewards that rebound to you.

#5 – Go for the World Record, Not the Medal

Katie Ledecky, the American swimmer who blew away the field in the women’s 800 meter freestyle, doesn’t swim for the gold medal. She swims for the world record. She’s got her eyes on the bigger prize.  And when she set the world record in Rio, she won that race by more than 11 seconds over her nearest competitor.

This piece of advice comes from one of our Chamber Members Juliet Foster who volunteers to  run the Chamber’s monthly Breakfast Club meetings. I think it’s great advice. Go for the world record. Ask yourself who now holds the world record in your industry and what can you learn from them. What are they doing that you’re not? How can you become the world record holder in your field.

#6 – Have Fun 

Ask Usain Bolt what has propelled him through all his wins and I would venture to guess that he’d tell you he relishes his time on the big stage. He’s enjoying the moment. Just think about it. Does he ever look nervous to you? I’ve never seen a more relaxed sprinter. Before his race, cameras often catch him dancing and being playful.  And it’s this energy that helps him relax into his races. So grab a Bolt and remember life is short. As a business owner you are fortunate to be doing what you love. Have some fun!

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Budget Season in Trenton: Never a Dull Moment

by Hoboken Strategy Group

As a regular reader of “From the Halls of Trenton,” you already know that June is without a doubt one of the most exciting months in Trenton.  This June has not been a disappointment to any and it’s not over yet!  Let’s get started.

Under the State Constitution, the State Budget must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.   In February, the Governor proposed a $34.5 billion budget which includes a $1.86 billion pension payment.  The Legislature introduced a $34.8 billion budget which was approved along party lines on June 27.  Governor Christie has the final say on the Budget as a result of the line item veto granted to him through the State Constitution.

statecapAs a part of the State Budget, the Legislature advanced the Christie administration’s plan to delay the payment schedule for businesses awarded grants under the Business Employment Incentive Program (BEIP).  This legislation would revise the priority schedule to issue converted tax credits to the oldest, outstanding grant awards that have been accrued but not paid to businesses.  Under the bill, businesses would receive a tax credit that totals 5% of the amount of the grant in the first year, 20% of the total in the second year, and 25% of the total in the next three subsequent years totaling a hundred percent of the grant accrued.  The Governor’s Office has projected that this plan would save the State $135 million in the new fiscal year.

Last week, the Senate and General Assembly gave final passage to S-15/A-15 which would increase the hourly minimum wage to $10.10.  The legislation would increase the minimum wage over a four-year period to $15 per hour.  Also under the legislation, if the federal minimum wage is raised higher than the State, then the State minimum wage would be set to the federal standard and increases to the Consumer Price Index would be applied to the federal wage rate.   The bill is now on Governor’s Christie’s desk where it is more than likely to be vetoed by the Governor.   The Governor has 45 days to make a decision on the legislation or it would automatically become law.  For anyone who would be interested in weighing in with the Governor on this legislation could do so through the Governor’s Office: http://nj.gov/governor/contact/

The Legislature is also considering a measure that would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to mandate contributions to New Jersey’s public pension system.  The State’s pension system covering around 770,000 active and retired public employees is currently $43.8 billion in debt.  This constitutional amendment would require the State to make quarterly increasing contributions into the pension fund through 2021.  Proponents have stressed the need for this legislation to avoid the collapse of the pension fund while opponents have warned that the amendment would take funding away from important State programs. The proposed constitutional amendment has passed the Assembly and awaits consideration by the Senate.

After much fanfare and a long wait, legislators are debating the replenishment of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) which is scheduled to run out of money in the next fiscal year without legislative action. This past Monday, June 27, there was plenty of action.  An original bipartisan compromise called for significant tax reductions for New Jersey residents and businesses.  The proposed “tax fairness” plan included an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to 40 percent of the State’s working poor, an increase in the tax exemption on retirement income, a tax deduction for charitable contributions as well as a phase out of the estate tax. 

Since all tax increases much originate in the Assembly, the ball was in their court.  By mid-afternoon it became apparent that there not enough votes in the Assembly to provide a veto-proof majority for the plan.  After several hours of negotiations, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Minority Leader Jon Bramnick reached an agreement with the Governor on an alternative plan: the TTF would be renewed as described below, however the TTF renewal would be for an 8-year period rather than a 10-year period as originally proposed.   The only tax cut from the original plan that remained was the income tax cut for retirement income which was joined by a new plan to reduce the current 7% sales tax.  Under the compromise, the sales tax would drop to 6.5 % on January 1, 2017 and fall again to 6% on January 1, 2018.  

The proposed $16 billion plan authorizes $15 billion in bonding authority and includes $500 million per year of “pay as you go” funding.    The TTF plan calls for a 23-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax which would result in a total 37.5-cent per gallon cost.  Proponents have touted that this tax would still be lower than neighboring states including New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  In addition, an estimated 20 percent to 35 percent of the tax would be paid by out-of-state motorists.  The tax would be capped at three dollars, meaning the surcharge would not be applied to sales above $3 per gallon.

The renewed Transportation Trust Fund plan calls for a $2 billion per year investment for 8 years towards repair, upgrade and maintenance of the State’s roads, bridges, tunnels and railways.  Sponsors of the TTF plan calculate that the increased funding would produce an estimated $4.7 billion per year in economic activity, creating 34,000 jobs with annual payrolls of $1.4 billion.  Further, each dollar spent from the TTF generates $2.35 in economic activity.  The plan would also provide up to $400 million annually for counties and municipalities as well as $28 million to create a Transportation Infrastructure Bank which would provide low-interest loans for local governments.  In order to address previous concerns of TTF funds being used for other purposes, voters will be considering a constitutional amendment on this year’s general election ballot in November which would dedicate all gas tax revenues for transportation infrastructure projects.

While the Assembly approved the TTF agreement overnight on Tuesday and Governor Christie has pledged to sign this compromise bill, the Senate adjourned for the day prior to consideration of the legislation.  The Senate is scheduled to return to Trenton on Thursday, 6/30 for a voting session.  Senate President Stephen Sweeney has given no indication as to whether he is willing to support the proposal.  It should be interesting!

It’s an exciting time to be in the Halls of Trenton.  Stay tuned!  We will fill you in on all of the happenings in our next issue!

Hoboken Strategy Group is a boutique New Jersey government relations and business development firm made up of public affairs professionals with years of experience handling legislative and regulatory issues on the local, state and federal levels.  Kay Elizabeth LiCausi, President of Hoboken Strategy Group, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.  Michael J. Comba serves as Vice President of Hoboken Strategy Group.  They can be reached online at www.hobokenstrategy.com and on Facebook at Hoboken Strategy Group.

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Taking on a Re-Newed Mission & Vision

by Maria Nieves, President & CEO

Since 2011, the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce has grown quite dramatically. When I  started at the Chamber in November of that year, our membership was approximately 280.  Five years later we are now serving 576 members, which represents a 100 percent increase.

That’s amazing growth for any Chamber. It’s a reflection of the dynamic business community here in Hudson County and the result of the improved programming, our improved communications and advocacy, and also our partnering with organizations such as the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce. It’s also the result of strong board leadership and more engaged Members who have helped us by recruiting new members and building programs such as our new monthly Breakfast Club Meetings.

As with any business, there’s no time to sit on our laurels! We plan to continue building on this growth.  And to that end, recognizing that we need to ensure the organization has a long-term plan, the Chamber’s Board of Directors recently engaged in strategic planning and approved a new mission statement for the organization:

The Hudson County Chamber of Commerce is the leading resource for driving economic growth–providing education, advocacy and access to our members within and throughout each community in Hudson County.

While our new Mission statement describes the organization’s purpose, the following new Vision statement is what we’d like to achieve in the next few years:

To be recognized as the premier leader in advocating for commerce while creating an environment in which business, government and community work hand-in-hand to drive economic vitality.

And we’ve already mapped out four goals to help us achieve our re-newed Mission and Vision:

  • Improve Membership engagement and retention processes. Deliver high quality programs and services that will increase chamber membership and add Member value.
  • Ensure a strong, well-managed and financially stable organization.
  • Serve as the voice for Hudson County commerce with government and community to promote the value of doing business in Hudson County.
  • Expand reach, presence and influence throughout Hudson County.

There is much work to be done to achieve the goals outlined above and fully activate our plan. If you’re a Member of the Chamber, who has made a financial investment through annual membership dues, I want to assure you that the leadership of the organization is planning for how we can better serve you and continue to be a relevant organization as we approach our 130th anniversary, which is upcoming in 2018. We want to be here for the long-term and continue to serve in the best way possible what I consider to be the most dynamic business community in New Jersey. And we’ll continue to let you know of our progress and to seek input from our Members.  As always, thank you for your support of the Chamber and of the business community.

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