Political boss Norcross: Camden tax breaks worked just as designed
Influential Democratic Party powerbroker George Norcross defended Camden and corporate tax incentives Monday before a sympathetic Senate committee, in a hearing that provided some tense theatrics but little evidence of how an impasse over the tax breaks will be resolved.
If anything, the Legislature appears as dug in as ever as its support of incentives in a slightly modified version of their current form. Norcross was asked by some lawmakers to respond to others’ critiques of how the law was written and implemented, but he was not pressed hard.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, asked the most detailed questions – but also wondered why the state government has wasted so much time investigating the tax credits and accused Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration of either misunderstanding or intentionally distorting the program.
“I have no dog in this fight, other than being concerned about getting to the truth because this has been a long, better part of a year, process of attacks, counterattacks, contentions, counter-contentions,” said O’Scanlon. “And if what you’re saying here today is true, this has been a witch hunt.”
When Norcross arrived for the hearing, protesters chanted "FBI" and other things. During the hearing, but before he spoke, a group of activists opposed to him were thrown out of the Statehouse by New Jersey State Police troopers.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, had directed troopers to eject a group in the back of the hearing room who cheered for the first speakers – and while that group left, troopers also went to the side of the committee room to remove people who had booed in response.
A short time later, after another round of protests, Norcross got his say – which included a nearly hour-long opening statement. He criticized the work of a task force appointed by Murphy, though didn’t go after the governor directly, as well as tax breaks to Teva Pharmaceuticals and Rutgers University.
“I am here today to speak for myself, not through lawyers or spokespeople, to defend Camden and to correct many misstatements, mischaracterizations and outright mistruths that are having a serious negative impact on the revitalization of our city,” Norcross said. “They need to stop. The residents of Camden and New Jersey deserve better.”
“Nothing would have occurred in Camden without these tax incentive programs,” Norcross said. “They did precisely what they were designed by the Legislature and the governor (to do)."
Norcross said the first steps in Camden’s revitalization were public safety – “No one was going to invest in a city where you could buy sex, drugs or get murdered in the same block,” he said – and education. He said the third step is restoring its economic base.
“We’ve heard from many critics that residents of Camden have not benefited in any way, shape or form from the changes going on in Camden. This is clearly not correct,” he said. “When schools are materially better, when public safety is improving at a rapid pace, certainly every resident of the city is being touched. Much, much more work to do.”