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

by Jason Rand, HarrisonRand


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, Hudson County Chamber of Commerce

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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From the Halls of Trenton: Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

by Hoboken Strategy Group

statecap“Time flies when you’re having fun.” A lot has happened in the Halls of Trenton since our last issue.  Let’s take a minute and bring you up to speed.

January 12 was an eventful day in Trenton with the start of the 217th Legislature, the swearing in of the General Assembly and the Governor’s State of the State.  Hudson County’s own, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32) was elected to his second term as Assembly Speaker.  The day also welcomed some fresh faces into the Halls of Trenton with twelve new Assemblymembers taking the oath of office, including three new representatives from Hudson County: Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31), Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-31) and Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33).  Let’s provide you with a quick briefing on each of the new Hudson County legislators.

  • One of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce’s own board members, Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti is an attorney and the director of community engagement at Saint Peter’s University, having previously served as state director for US Senator/Congressman Robert Menendez and Executive Director of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority.   Assemblyman Chiaravalloti serves on the Assembly Commerce & Economic Development Committee and the Assembly Transportation & Independent Authorities Committee.
  • Born and raised in Jersey City, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization, AngelaCARES, which is headquartered in Jersey City. The Assemblywoman has been assigned to the Assembly Education; Health & Senior Services; and Human Services committees.
  • Representing the 33rd District, Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro works in the office of the Hoboken City Clerk. She previously served as the division head for the Hoboken Taxi and Livery and Constitution Services, Board Secretary for the Hoboken Planning & Zoning Boards, and as a member of the Hoboken Rent Control Board. The Assemblywoman serves on the Homeland Security & State Preparedness Committee and the Assembly Law & Public Safety Committee.

From the Halls of Trenton’s view of the State of the State

In his State of the State address, Governor Chris Christie reflected on his administration’s achievements while laying out an agenda for 2016. The Governor cited the strides the State took towards economic recovery in 2015 including: the fastest private sector job creation in 15 years; a decrease in the unemployment rate to 5.3 percent- its lowest since 2008; home sales up nearly 14% since 2014; foreclosures down over 20% from 2014.  Continuing on the administration’s commitment to reclaiming lives from addiction, the Governor announced the re-purposing of the former Mid-State Correctional Facility to the first-ever dedicated, licensed substance use disorder treatment program.  The Governor also proposed over $100 million in State and Federal Funds to increase mental health and substance use treatment services.  Governor Christie also called for the abolishment of the Estate Tax in New Jersey.  Citing the lowest exemption threshold in the country, the Governor said the Estate Tax does not just penalize the wealthy, but also affects middle class families seeking to pass down a family home to the next generation.

In February, Governor Christie returned to the Assembly Chamber to present his budget for Fiscal Year 2017. The Governor’s $34.8 billion budget proposal includes no new taxes and a small amount of new spending.  The proposed budget included a $94 million increase in aid for schools and a $1.86 billion pension payment, the largest in state history.  Governor Christie used his speech as an opportunity to cite the burden of public pensions and health benefits on the state budget which increased by $487 million compared to the current year’s budget.

The State Budget proposal is now under review by the Senate and Assembly Budget committees with the heads of each state department and agency presenting their proposed budget for the next fiscal year in addition to updated economic figures from the State Treasurer and Office of Legislative Services. Legislators and the Governor have until 11:59 p.m. on June 30 to reach an agreement on a final budget.

One topic of interest that was absent from the Governor’s Budget Address was a plan for the replenishment of the State’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which is due to run out of funding at the end of this fiscal year in June. Several lawmakers have argued for an increase in the State’s 14.5-cent per gallon gas tax which has not seen an increase since 1988.  New Jersey has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation, behind Alaska.  The proposed FY17 State Budget calls for a $1.6 billion funding gap from the TTF in the next fiscal year and both Governor Christie and legislative leadership have stated that “everything is on the table.”  Stay tuned.

The prospect of a gas tax increase has led to increased consideration of the previously reported elimination of the Estate Tax and a gradual increase in the retirement income tax exemption, which would deliver an estimated $400 million in tax cuts to New Jersey residents. Proponents have called for these changes as two major reasons for the mass exodus of residents from New Jersey.  Figures show that 2 million people left New Jersey between 2005 and 2014 which, according to the New Jersey Business & Industry Association cost the State $18 billion in net adjusted income and $11.4 billion in economic activity.

With a budget to settle as well as the future of our State’s Transportation Trust Fund hanging in the balance, it will be an exciting couple of months in Trenton. Not to worry though, we will keep you up to date on everything new and exciting 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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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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