The Greater Highlands region in North Jersey and the Pinelands in South Jersey are both known for their natural beauty. But both areas are struggling economically.

On Thursday, a New Jersey congressman unveiled a plan to give both regions an economic boost.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, said in recent years the state has lost residents, businesses and property value. At the same time, property taxes have continued to rise.

During a news conference in rural Lafayette, Gottheimer said legislation is being crafted to establish Garden State Rural Enterprise Zones.

“For too long, you’ve got beautiful rural areas but just not enough job creation," he said.

He said the development plan calls for reducing sales taxes to 4.3125% from the current 6.625% and dedicating 1% to property tax reduction in these counties.

“By lowering the sales tax, what you can do is draw more businesses in and especially promote our ecotourism," he said. "It’s such a beautiful part of the state; the challenge is getting more people here.”

He said the plan also calls for financial assistance for businesses from relevant state agencies, including through public-private partnerships with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, as well as exemptions from energy sales tax for qualified manufacturing firms, and tax credits for qualified investments.

He said the plan can both protect the enviro

He said the plan would protect the environment and “the beauty of this area” while improving the economy.

The plan also calls for the Highlands and Pinelands Councils to study ways to expand and improve economic development and follow up with annual reports detailing ideas and strategies.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said more details are needed because the proposal "raises more questions than answers."

“Creating rural economic zones in the Highlands could be good but it also raises a lot of red flags. We have to make sure development coming in is compatible with the Highlands Protection Act and will protect the water supply for 6.5 million people. We don’t want to see this program promote sprawl and over development in environmentally sensitive areas of the Highlands," he said.

“In order to provide economic growth in this area, we need to prevent harmful development that would undercut the environment and tourism."

“This proposal raises more questions than answers. We are very cautious about this plan and need to see more details to make sure that it promotes development that sustains the Highlands.”

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who attended the news conference, has indicated his support for the plan.

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