Guadagno: The Business of Bringing Business to New Jersey

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Kim Guadagno, Lt. Governor of New Jersey, talked about her efforts to expedite business growth in New Jersey.

Beefing up business incentives

New Jersey's government has made it a priority to attract businesses to the state and keep them there. A pillar of that priority is the recent expansion of the Business Retention and Relocation Assistance grant program: since Governor Chris Christie took office, the program has grown to provide $2,250 annually for six years for every job retained in New Jersey, compared to $1,500 for just one year in the past.

Kim Guadagno held up the example of Panasonic, which was ready to bail out of Secaucus and, likely, the entire state until this incentive program came along.

Panasonic, a multinational company, was leaivng New Jersey. It was certified in their records that they were out the door. They could go anywhere in the world. We went to them and said, stay in New Jersey, use these incentive programs; so we were able to keep Panasonic solely because of the existence of this incentive program. Also, Panasonic doesn't get paid a dime until they create a job, until they put shovel to the ground and build that building...It doesn't cost us anything until someone starts to work in New Jersey.

Competition for Hunts Point

In terms of attracting businesses from outside the state, New Jersey has its sights set on Hunts Point, a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx. Guadagno hopes the state will be able to siphon companies and jobs from the New York borough—but that raises questions about regional cannibalism, and whether it's desirable to have neighboring states try to pull businesses away from one another. Guadagno was prepared to defend the policy.

Competition is good for everybody, I think. Hunts Point is in the Bronx, there are 3,200 jobs, and we're fighting very hard to attract them to New Jersey. The 3,200 people who can move to New Jersey from New York are going to be very happy, because we're going to save them a lot of money when they come here. If Hunts Point moves to New Jersey, it will save, from one of the companies talking about coming here, $300 per truckload because they're on this side of the river.

Competition within New Jersey, too

Going after businesses across the river understandably makes some New Yorkers feel threatened. That's a reality within New Jersey as well: returning to the example of Panasonic, the city of Secaucus is less than thrilled that the state helped advocated for and orchestrated the company's relocation to Newark. To some, it seems like the government is playing favorites, but Guadagno said that their primary concern is keeping businesses in the state, period.

The bottom line is that Panasonic was leaving the building they were in and they were going someplace else. If they weren't going to stay in New Jersey, then it would be a total loss of upwards of 1,000 jobs to the people of New Jersey. I'm not going to choose between my favorite son, I'm just going to go out and market the soon-to-be empty building in Secaucus as much as I market the one in Newark. Legislation has seven cities entitled to these types of preferential treatment: urban areas that need updated infrastructure. That's legislation that existed well before Chris Christie was elected.

Tax relief not coming fast enough

Brian Lehrer opened the phones to New Jersey's small business owners to voice their concerns about burdens faced by their operations. As expected, insurance costs and taxes were at the top of the list.

For an administration that began with a promise to slow the growth of taxes and eventually lower them, the public's patience is beginning the thin. It's understandable, given New Jersey's unfortunate distinction as one of the heaviest-taxed states in the nation. But Guadagno said that relief is coming, slowly but surely, and that the patience will pay off.

It's not going to be fast enough. We walked in the door with an $11 billion budget deficit. We had promised not to raise taxes; we were the 50th highest taxed state in the country, and dead last in terms of overall tax burden. I know it's not a lot of progress, but last year we moved to 49th, because we vetoed the millionaires' tax. Whether you agree with that or not, it did move us from 50 to 49, so we're moving in the right direction.

Already this year the governor has signed off on tax relief for small businesses, and proposed in this budget $200 million worth of business tax cuts mostly directed at small businesses. Assuming the budget gets passed, you'll see some small relief; it has to be small, because we have to turn our economy around and put people back to work first in this tough recessionary period so that we can focus more on lowering overall taxes.

Guadagno also said that if the legislature accomplishes pension, education and health care reform by the time it leaves for campaign season, everyone could expect to see a "real sea change" in their property taxes.

'My job is to give certainty'

Throughout the interview, Guadagno made it clear that she was there to help. She stressed the transparency of her office—one which hadn't existed before Christie's election—and the ease with which business owners could bring their concerns to someone who would listen and do their best to help.

My job is to give certainty and finality in the business world. If you have a problem with the state of New Jersey, if we're in any way involved in your business and making it hard for you to stay here, expand here, or come here, then you need to give me a call. Then it's my job to bring all the different parts of government to the table for that problem.

Guadagno provided the phone number for New Jersey's "one-stop business action center" where business owners could start to have their concerns addressed. That number is (866) 534-7789.