- Associated Press - Friday, June 7, 2019

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey task force that raised questions about how businesses tied to Democratic political powerbroker George Norcross got millions in tax incentives said Friday that it’s delaying its next hearing in response to his lawsuit.

The judge presiding over the lawsuit asked that Tuesday’s hearing and the release of a report on tax credits be delayed, and the panel agreed, according to a statement released by the task force.

Norcross is suing Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy over the task force he empaneled in January, arguing that it unlawfully used subpoena powers and unfairly singled out firms tied to him.

In a court document filed on Thursday Norcross wrote that the task force was damaging his reputation and “inflicting irreparable harm” upon him and his co-plaintiffs.

Norcross is an executive at insurance brokerage Conner Strong & Buckelew and chairs the board at Cooper University Health Care. Those organizations are also plaintiffs in the suit against Murphy, along with the Michaels Organization and law firm Parker McCay. Norcross is also a former Camden County Democratic chairman, a noted fundraiser for the party, as well as a friend of Senate President Steve Sweeney and brother of Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross.

Friday’s postponement is just the latest in a high-tension, politically fraught fight over tax credits.

Murphy pledged earlier this year to overhaul the state’s current crop of tax incentives, which were enacted under Republican Chris Christie and expire July 1. A key rationale for enacting a new program was a state comptroller report that the Economic Development Authority, which oversees the credits, couldn’t verify whether all obligations had been met for credits to be awarded. Murphy is instead seeking a capped tax credit program, as opposed to the uncapped one enacted under his predecessor.

Murphy’s push chafed lawmakers, many of whom had either voted for or helped write the expiring program, but the tensions worsened when at a May meeting in Newark, the task force publicized documents questioning whether Norcross-linked firms met requirements to get credits.

The task force, for example, presented emails showing that Cooper said it had initially no intention of leaving New Jersey but then later said it was considering a move to Philadelphia, which the EDA cited as a factor in awarding the credits. Supporters of Norcross have said that it wasn’t necessary under the law to show that a company was considering moving out of state if a firm was going to Camden.

Cooper received $40 million over 10 years, with about $13 million already paid out.

There have been other developments, though, that raised questions, including reports by The New York Times and WNYC and ProPublica.

The Times reported that a lobbyist with Parker McCay helped write the legislation. WNYC and ProPublica reported that Camden got about four times as many tax breaks as other cities, among other findings.

The task force also made an unspecified criminal referral.

Late last month, Norcross filed suit against Murphy in Superior Court in Mercer County. He also did critical interviews in the media. In one he compared Murphy to the King of England, prompting the first-term governor to say that was “very hard” for someone with Irish roots to hear.

A hearing in the lawsuit is set for June 17. A new date for the task force meeting was not specified.

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