From the Halls of Trenton: Anchors Away & Is a Gas Tax Hike on the Horizon?

statecapby Hoboken Strategy Group

As colder weather comes upon us, the days get shorter, and the leaves change color, the halls of Trenton remain relatively quiet. With all 80 seats in the State Assembly up for election this year, the Assembly had not returned since gaveling out on June 30. The Senate remained in session throughout the Summer and into the Fall, maintaining a relatively light legislative agenda.  The Senate did not take an official Summer Recess in order to prevent the Governor from making “recess appointments.”  This action is typical when the Governor’s Office and Senate are led by differing political parties.

Anchors Away!

While at work, the Senate is advancing bipartisan legislation to boost New Jersey’s boating and marina industry. S-2784/A-3856 would cap the maximum amount of sales tax that New Jersey could levy on a boat or yacht sold in State at $20,000 as well as cut the sales tax rate on all boats purchased in State to 3.5 percent.  In recent years, the boating industry in the State has lost business due to the economic recession, Superstorm Sandy as well as competition from other mid-Atlantic states who have reformed their tax structure as it pertains to marine sales.  New Jersey is also home to Viking Yachts in Tuckerton which produces yachts from 42 to 92 feet in length.

Proponents of the bill have touted it as an economic boost to the industry that will preserve and create jobs such as sales representatives, production workers, dock operators, and mechanics. The bill was originally approved in June but conditionally vetoed by Governor Christie.  The current version reflects the Governor’s recommendations.  It now awaits concurrence by the Assembly.

Lame Duck Waddles In

With Election Day behind us, the Senate and Assembly are returning to Trenton for the lame duck session which will conclude with the end of the session on January 11. Lame duck is typically a busy time in Trenton as legislators look to advance their priorities before the end of the session, help departing lawmakers by passing “legacy bills,” and even pursue such measures as legislator pay increases or tax increases.

With a June 30, 2016 funding expiration, the Legislature could revisit the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) issue in the weeks and months ahead. Recent polls continually show that a majority of New Jerseyans remain opposed to funding the TTF with an increase in the gasoline tax.  In a recent Eagleton Center for Public Interest Poll, 57% of people surveyed said they opposed a gas tax hike “for any reason.”  When surveyed on the increase including a promise to dedicate funds to transportation improvements, few of those polled were swayed.

Recently a coalition of advocacy groups, labor unions and civic organizations sent a formal letter to the Legislature requesting that any potential increase in the gas tax not be tied to a repeal of the state’s estate and inheritance taxes. The coalition cited that a precondition could lead to the loss of approximately $600M from the general fund while unfairly benefiting New Jersey’s wealthiest residents.  Several business groups and Republican legislators including Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) have called for pairing the increase with a repeal of inheritance and estate taxes.  Last month, Governor Chris Christie said that he would not consider a gas tax increase without other tax concessions.

As an interested business owner in New Jersey who cares about improving our State’s infrastructure, you might be wondering, what can I do? Legislators need to hear the opinions of their constituents.  Reach out to your legislators and tell them that you support an increase in New Jersey’s motor fuels tax to fund infrastructure improvements in New Jersey.  Visit http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp and search for your legislator.  If you need talking points, refer to the past issues of “From the Halls of Trenton” located on your bookshelf!

No minimum wage increase in 2016

Last month, the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced that New Jersey’s minimum wage will remain $8.38 an hour in 2016. As a result of the 2013 constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage, further increases are tied to the consumer price index for all urban wage earners.  This federal inflation measure edged down slightly over the past year.  This announcement was welcomed by groups such as the New Jersey Business & Industry Association which called it “the type of breather that businesses need and that the New Jersey economy needs to catch up.”  On the other end of the spectrum, organizations such as New Jersey Policy Perspective have called for increasing the State’s minimum wage to $12-15 per hour.

On the Local Front

On the local level, Jersey City recently announced the launch of the Jersey City Fund, a new loan program to assist small businesses. Without an established credit history or proven track records, new businesses often have difficulty in securing capital from banks.  According to Mayor Steven Fulop, the fund will give entrepreneurs the tools needed to “succeed, create good jobs, and contribute to the City’s economy.”    The Jersey City Fund will provide SBA Community Advantage loans between $25,000 and $250,000 to small businesses and start-ups located in Jersey City.  In addition, the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation and The 504 Company are sponsoring the Jersey City Business Acceleration Competition which will award cash prizes of $15,000 and $10,000 as well as additional business support to two existing Jersey City small businesses that demonstrate potential for significant growth.

In Harrison, the Township recently continued their long-running redevelopment of the waterfront with the opening of 221 Bergen Street. The new 104-unit luxury apartment complex is located on the site of a former cookie factory and is the result of private investment and a PILOT agreement.  With the $250 million dollar expansion and modernization of the PATH station in Harrison, this development is just one piece of the town’s transformation from industrial powerhouse to commuter haven.  On the horizon is Harrison are two 400-unit complexes expected to open in October as well as three planned residential complexes, a hotel, and a supermarket.

Stay Tuned!

The quiet in the State House halls will soon give way to what is expected to be a busy lame duck legislative session. The action will heat up this Fall/Winter in Trenton and you know we will be in the Halls of Trenton to cover it all for you.  Stay tuned!

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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