Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign to reform New Jersey’s tax incentives for businesses, after almost two years, seems to have reached the negotiation phase. He and fellow Democrats leading the Legislature are seeking agreement on a new program of tax breaks for businesses, after Murphy let the prior two programs expire last June.
Murphy’s latest proposal is for an overall cap on the amount of incentives one corporation could get. This from the governor who supported offering Amazon $7 billion in tax credits — $2 billion more than Amazon planned to spend on the headquarters being sought. Legislative leaders say a hard cap is out, but maybe a flexible cap would be possible.
Murphy has a task force looking into past tax breaks, especially those granted by or benefiting his foes in the Democratic Party. The Legislature is holding hearings on the tax-credit program and experts recently floated ideas for improvement.
A Pew Charitable Trusts officer said capping incentives would make budgeting and planning easier.
An economist with the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research suggested giving breaks up front (and out of current state tax revenue) instead of from future tax liabilities, with claw-back provisions for noncompliance. Or give businesses loans and then forgive them if the promised jobs appear. Either way, he suggested cutting the awards in half.
Such tweaking of business incentives could improve the program, but nothing suggested yet looks like it would prevent politicians from directing money to connected, favored people and businesses. Ostensibly that’s one of Murphy’s reform goals.
The question ignored by Murphy and Democrats in the Legislature is why does New Jersey need to give businesses tax breaks that are twice as big as the national average? Asking and answering that would point to the crippling of New Jersey’s economic potential by state government.
A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of the factional squabbling over incentive details, the nonpartisan nonprofit Tax Foundation supplied the reason that New Jersey politicians must lavish money on corporations even at the cost of revenue they love to spend.
In its latest State Business Tax Climate Index, New Jersey for the sixth straight year was the worst in the nation. Besides 50th place overall in its competition with other states, it is dead last for individual income tax, 49th for corporate income tax and 47th for property taxes.
New Jersey residents pay the nation’s highest property taxes per person — $3,127 for every one of us, no matter what age.
As the Tax Foundation put it, the Garden State is “hampered by some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, has the second highest-rate corporate income tax in the country and a particularly aggressive treatment of international income, levies an inheritance tax, and maintains some of the nation’s worst-structured individual income taxes.”
Despite all those taxes, New Jersey offers substandard infrastructure. In CNBC state ratings this year, it ranked 39th in infrastructure quality.
No wonder state government has to pay major businesses a lot of money to locate here or just remain here. And since that lost tax revenue isn’t offset by spending cuts, it must be made up by residents and businesses already here paying more.
Gov. Murphy has made things worse by levying $2 billion in new taxes. His focus on the details of tax incentives is a distraction from the failure of him and his party to control spending and address state government’s crushing $200 billion in debt and government employee benefit obligations.