opinion_feature

Camden incentives squabbles overshadow RFQ for Riverfront State Prison site

The specifications and descriptions of the property in the RFQ were reasonably precise:

  • Riverfront property, views of Philadelphia skyline;
  • Approximately 8.75 acres of prime land, close to a newly established public park, roadway improvements;
  • Large-scale environmental cleanup that involved capping the property with clean fill, topsoil and vegetation;
  • Seemingly ideal location for commercial or mixed-use development.

If interested, the EDA release says (bolded and ALL CAPS as it was presented):

Qualifications must be received by 2 p.m. on September 18, 2019 in a securely SEALED envelope or carton.

Here’s what the Request for Qualifications for those interested in redeveloping the former Riverfront State Prison Site in Camden doesn’t say:

Will the developer or any companies using the site have access to any Economic Development Authority-sponsored tax incentive programs?

Will those using any potential incentives become pawns in the growing war involving Camden — a war Gov. Phil Murphy’s team says it did not want, but it has, thanks to a task force many in Camden feel (rightly or wrongly) was constructed with an eye on them?

Will — and it’s becoming increasingly easier to question — there be any incentive programs actually on the books when it comes time to advance the process?

And, finally, if there are no incentives available, will that be an acknowledgement that the previous incentives for Camden did what they were supposed to do: create an urban environment where incentives are no longer needed to attract development?

If the EDA’s release of the RFQ for the former prison site was intended to show the Murphy administration is committed to development in Camden, it may have fallen short.

Firms are not racing to do business in Camden right now.

“The EDA is toxic,” one developer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. “No one wants to be associated with it right now. That’s not good.”

There is a lot of uncertainty.

And tension.

Earlier Friday, Camden Mayor Frank Moran (along with city council President Curtis Jenkins and state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez) issued a tough-talking news release regarding Murphy’s planned visit to the city — only his second since taking office, they said.

“Gov. Phil Murphy is swooping into Camden to attend a small group event out of the eye of the public, but he won’t come here to talk to the leaders of the city about why he’s attacking it or the potentially devastating impacts his attacks could have on the amazing progress Camden is making,” Moran said in the release.

“That’s why it’s so important that he understand from those of us who were elected to represent the people of Camden a simple message: He’s not welcome here unless and until he stops attacking the city and talks to the people of Camden and the leaders who were elected to represent them.

“Using Trenton attack dogs to try to destroy any of the more than two dozen companies which are making major investments in Camden makes it harder to attract new ones here, and that hurts the people of Camden.”

Darryl Isherwood, a spokesperson for the EDA, took exception to Moran’s words, and reiterated the governor’s interest — and efforts — in Camden. Efforts, he said, are demonstrated by the RFQ.

“The focus of the task force has never been about one geography or one company or one person,” he said. “It’s always been about determining if taxpayer dollars — including those paid by the residents of Camden — have been spent wisely, and to ensure that the program works for everybody, not just a select few.

“Gov. Murphy continues to make the well-being of the city of Camden a priority,  in areas like education where we have allocated more than $310 million to school funding, the most in recent memory; transportation, where we have distributed more than $54 million to the county; and property tax relief, where more than $180 million has been earmarked under three separate programs.”

Isherwood said the governor is eager to get his new incentive programs passed.

“The governor has proposed a robust package of tax incentives that we’re still hopeful will be passed into law by the Legislature,” he said. “Those incentives certainly would benefit developers interested into the site.”

The process figures to be a long one. The RFQ is just the first step.

But it’s the first step into a situation some are hesitant to get into.

This much is a clear: A highly desirable piece of real estate (and a good part of that desirability comes from the investment that has come to Camden) is available. But it comes with many more questions than can be answered right now.

And that’s not good for New Jersey.

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EDA investment has been part of watershed transformation of Camden — and wasn’t that exact purpose of Economic Opportunity Act?

(Editor’s note: This op-ed originally appeared on NJ.com. It is reprinted here with permission.)

There’s another round of “dog pile on the rabbit” occurring in New Jersey. In this case, it’s politicians and the media bashing the how the Economic Development Authority has been doling out tax credits to businesses connected with South Jersey political leader George Norcross — the rabbit, it would seem, at the bottom of this particular pile of dogs.

I’ve sat and watched this with incredulity, because it appears that everyone so scandalized by the Economic Development Authority’s actions seems a bit clueless about the law itself, and what its intentions were.

A primer:

What was the intended purpose of the Economic Opportunity Act?

The bill was designed as a mechanism to help bring economic development to South Jersey, specifically creating set-asides for the eight southern counties, especially Camden. Why? As Matt Friedman (then with NJ.com, now with Politicoreported in 2013, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) noted that in the “last incentive bill … almost 97 cents out of every dollar went to Jersey City and Newark. If something isn’t done, South Jersey won’t see any of it.” At that point, $211 million had gone to Prudential for its headquarters in Newark. Honeywell received $40 million to move five miles from Morris Township to Morris Plains, and on and on.

But the geographical inequities in state funding weren’t limited to the Economic Development Authority: Millions of dollars of Casino Reinvestment Development Authority money had gone to North Jersey pet projects. CRDA money was taken from needy Atlantic City and used to help build a museum to Yogi Berra (who I love, but that’s beside the point) on my Montclair State University campus (which I also love, but is also beside the point) in one of the most affluent communities in the state (which is the point). The EOA was designed to address some of these historic inequities.

Who supported it?

In short, almost everyone. OK, not everyone. A total of seven legislators in both houses opposed the measure, with the lone Republican opponent in the Senate citing his support of the free market system rather than government subsidies as his motivation for opposition. The point is that sometimes, in politics, deals are made. Through logrolling, one legislator supports a bill that doesn’t matter to her in order to gain support of a measure that will benefit her constituents. It’s not pretty, but it’s how politics is done. And the overwhelming majority of the state Legislature supported the set-asides for South Jersey.

Why Camden?

When this legislation was drafted, Camden was the poorest city in the nation. Its unemployment rate was approaching 40 percent, nearly half of its families lived below the poverty line, and the average income was about $26,000 (compared with a statewide average of over $70,000 at the time). And, unlike most of the state, the damage to Camden’s economy hadn’t been caused by the Great Recession. Rather, Camden had witnessed decades of abandonment by industry and outmigration by residents.

So, what’s the deal with the George Norcross ‘connections’? 

He’s the most powerful unelected man in the state, and, by all accounts, the Camden native envisioned Camden’s transformation. Should it be surprising that companies that want to do business in Camden are “connected” to him, or, heaven forbid, he convinced companies to locate in Camden? Is there something illegal about that?

At the height of his power, could you imagine development in Newark’s North Ward in which the principals didn’t go kiss Steve Abudato Sr.’s ring? Or major development in Union City where Brian Stack wasn’t tangentially involved? If a company is looking to secure tax incentives, wouldn’t it be reasonable that they contract with a law firm that specializes in securing these incentives?

In watching the recriminations of companies connected to Norcross, I couldn’t help but ask, “So what?” Should business leaders with “connections” to Norcross be precluded from receiving the tax incentives? Is there something illegal about having a connection to the man? Are these people who are so incensed new to politics? To New Jersey? Do they not understand how spheres of influence work?

Have you been to Camden lately?

Since the EDA’s investment, the poverty rate is down 5 percent, the unemployment rate is down 8 percent, the high school graduation rate is up 20 percent, and the crime rate is down nearly 60 percent. There have been improvements in public safety and green spaces to encourage Subaru, Holtec International and the Philadelphia 76ers’ employees to stay in town; the Eds & Meds anchor institutions — Rutgers University and Cooper University Hospital — have expanded their downtown footprints; market-rate housing is being built for millennials who are increasingly seeing Camden as desirable. A hotel is opening.

I am not claiming that all of these indicators are a direct result of the EDA investment exclusively, but, clearly, the investment has been part of a watershed, systemic transformation of the city of Camden, what the Wall Street Journal characterized as “a development boom.” And isn’t that exactly what the purpose of the Economic Opportunity Act was?

Brigid Callahan Harrison is professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, where she teaches courses in American government. A frequent commentator on state and national politics, she is the author of five books on American politics. Like her on Facebook at Brigid Callahan Harrison. Follow her on Twitter @BriCalHar.

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Most CPAs are telling clients to relocate out of N.J. — here’s how we can change that

Certified public accountants often hear objections about New Jersey’s high taxes from clients who are looking to leave New Jersey — and this past tax season was no exception, according to members of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants. And a Rutgers-Eagleton poll done in collaboration with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association serves to underscore why.

The overwhelming majority of New Jersey residents polled — 82 percent — said they are overburdened by taxes and are not getting their money’s worth in services. Similarly, 81 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the way state leaders are addressing New Jersey’s affordability challenges.

Against this backdrop of taxpayer angst about some of the highest personal and business taxes in the nation, Gov. Phil Murphy’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposes more tax increases on top of the $1.6 billion in tax hikes enacted last year. He is proposing a top 10.75% marginal tax rate affecting income over $1 million. If enacted, more New Jersey residents and small businesses that flow income through their personal returns would be taxed at rates well above New York state’s 8.82% and Pennsylvania’s flat 3.07% rate.

It is no wonder a recent NJCPA member survey found that 75% of CPAs have advised some clients to relocate their homes or businesses out of New Jersey in order reduce their tax burden.

New Jersey must break its destructive tax-and-spend habit by addressing the structural imbalances in its budget in order to put the state on sounder financial footing.

A recent NJBIA analysis of 10 years’ worth of audited state revenues, expenses and debt found state debt increased 382% from 2007 to 2017, and state spending increases outpaced revenue, 45% to 23%. New Jersey’s combined net pension liability and post-employment benefit obligation totals $151.6 billion, which is four times the size of the annual state budget.

Without changes to the pension and benefit structure, costs will rise from $6.6 billion a year to about $11 billion annually in 2023, according to state Treasury projections and other health benefit reports. That means 27% of the state budget would go to support pensions and benefits, leaving less money for essential state services and making it more likely the state will resort to additional tax increases to make up the difference.

The NJCPA strongly endorsed the pension and benefit reforms spelled out by the New Jersey Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup in its Path to Progress report last year. These include shifting from the current defined benefit pension system to a more sustainable hybrid system that combines the best elements of both a defined benefit and defined contribution system.

In May, the state treasurer will brief legislative budget committees on the administration’s updated revenue projections for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. Murphy had been counting on 7.7% revenue growth to balance the FY 2019 budget; however, through March, the total growth rate of all major revenue sources has been only 4.74%.

In short, New Jersey remains on a counterproductive path of spending more money than it has and relying on tax increases to make up the difference. The changes to the income tax bracket in the proposed FY 2020 budget will further undermine the state’s ability to grow and attract businesses.

NJCPA supports policies that produce a fair tax system and economic growth so that companies and residents will stay in New Jersey and thrive. NJCPA stands ready to serve as a resource to the governor, his administration and the Legislature to develop policies that foster economic growth.

Ralph Albert Thomas is CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants. With more than 14,500 members, NJCPA represents the interests of the accounting profession and advances the financial well-being of the people of New Jersey. The NJCPA plays a leadership role in supporting the profession by providing members with educational resources, access to shared knowledge and a continuing effort to create and expand professional opportunities.

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‘Credibility issue’: Zoffinger, longtime power broker, says EDA upheaval puts N.J. in bad light — one it caused itself

George Zoffinger has served on approximately a dozen boards across the state — and across the globe.

He’s overseen the Economic Development Authority and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority — and he’s the current chairman of the New Brunswick Economic Development Corp.

He’s worked — in some capacity — for every New Jersey governor since Jim Florio, who appointed him commissioner of commerce and economic development.

So, he knows a thing or two about how agencies and government are supposed to operate. And he’s not happy about what he sees going on in connection with the EDA.

“It pains me to see what has happened at that organization,” he told ROI-NJ.

Zoffinger is talking about Chairman Larry Downes stepping down at the request of Gov. Phil Murphy — a request other members of the EDA who were appointed by former Gov. Chris Christie have not complied with so far.

He’s talking about a scathing audit — the parameters of which have been called into question.

He’s talking about the efforts of outside groups calling for a complete overhaul of the EDA for reasons some feel are based more on politics than performance.

“It’s not necessary, I guess is the way I would put it,” Zoffinger said. “We’ve had so many good people that have dedicated their life to it and have done some really positive things for the economic development of the state.

“And, now, because people didn’t agree with some of the things that were done during the Christie years, they’re basically throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Zoffinger was on a roll.

“I know Larry Downes very well,” he said. “I’ve worked with Larry. I’ve been on the board of New Jersey Natural Gas for 20 years. I’ve seen him. And I know the kind of person he is. And all Larry wanted to do is to make a positive contribution, and he’s done that.

“To make him a scapegoat because you don’t agree with some of the policies that were undertaken at the time, in my opinion, is really wrong. So, it’s really pretty bad to see what’s happening there.”

Zoffinger did offer some praise for Kevin Quinn, who was named to replace Downes on Friday morning.

Quinn is the founder of the Genki Advisory investment firm in Short Hills and, like Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive.

“It could be a good first step,” Zoffinger said. “He seems to be a qualified guy.

“As long as the turmoil doesn’t continue, I think it’s a positive thing. But if they’re going to fight over the four board members, then that will be the focus of the place. They won’t be focusing on what they should be focusing on, which is economic development.”

Regardless of what happens going forward, Zoffinger knows it won’t go perfectly. He’s been around the block enough times to know that no agency is like that.

But, he said he has confidence in the EDA. He said he’s never lost it.

“You’re always going to have situations where people try to game the system,” he said. “You’re always going to have that. But in the case of the EDA, over the years, to my knowledge, it’s always been very difficult to game the system. They basically have so much backup, not only the paperwork, but the constant scrutiny they are under.”

Zoffinger said the problem is an age-old one in the state.

Because the governor — whoever it is — has so much power, few people are willing to challenge the office, he said.

“The governor’s position is so strong, people will not buck it,” he said. “They won’t fight against it. If the governor’s position is to do just about anything — we gave away Giants Stadium (when I was at the sports authority) because the governor wanted to do it.

“People in New Jersey have this aversion to bucking what most governors say. It’s really sad, because some really good people maybe could have made some of the policies (better), but we don’t do that in New Jersey.”

This will lead to a bigger problem, Zoffinger said.

How many others will want to serve the state?

“They’re going to ask, ‘What’s going to happen when somebody else comes along and they don’t like them because Murphy appointed them,’” he said. “We’re going to throw them out for no reason — or because some conservative groups or some liberal groups or some other groups say that they should?

“When people say, ‘We’ve got to get rid of all these people,’ what do they mean get by, ‘these people’? These are people. You got to look at the person and see what’s this person all about.”

Why would people — or, more importantly, big companies — want to settle here? And who is going to help them?

“Larry is a really good guy who brought real stability to that organization,” Zoffinger said. “Now you put the whole organization into an upheaval.

“Now, what’s going to get done while these people fight over whether they’re going or staying, right? I would say, ‘Nothing.’”

Zoffinger said it’s necessary for the state to clean up the mess. He hopes Quinn can do that.

“You have to make sure that people understand their responsibilities and you have to stop the personal attacks and the rancor that seems to be around the organization,” he said. “Because, if you don’t, they will never be able to have the credibility necessary to be able to do that job.

“That’s really what it comes down to. There’s a credibility issue right now that has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed by competent people. Hopefully, some stability or some kind of positive reaction will take place instead of fighting.

“So, if a company wants to come to New Jersey, they know that they could deal with the people that are there versus people that have been asked to leave.”

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Stopping natural gas in N.J. would threaten economy

New York was hit with a stark realization just weeks ago: When anti-pipeline rhetoric replaces facts in energy policy, the results can be devastating for neighborhoods, businesses and job-creating economic development. Worst of all, what is unfolding on Long Island and in Westchester County is entirely avoidable, providing a cautionary tale New Jersey must avoid as the siren song of stopping all natural gas projects begins to rear its head in the Garden State.

ConEd announced that, beginning March 15, it will not add any new natural gas utility customers in Westchester County because it cannot guarantee reliable service without new supply. That’s a frightening development.

National Grid added that it, too, could not provide reliable fuel to heat the pending $1 billion Belmont Park initiative on Long Island, threatening the major development of a new hockey arena, a hotel and retail spaces.

Mike Stiles, business manager, Pipefitters Local 274.

Bipartisan officials across the impacted communities are now sounding alarm bells about the “devastation” the lack of gas utility service means to their downtown redevelopment projects, new affordable housing and job-creating commercial projects. 

The Environmental Defense Fund even testified on Feb. 13 that opposing or preventing all pipeline expansion “is not an effective climate policy,” because insufficient pipeline capacity is “causing adverse environmental impacts.”

Massachusetts is in a similar position. Politicians gave false comfort in a now-debunked 2015 report that recommended, like some in New Jersey do today, that no new natural gas pipelines were needed. Just two years later, not only did the state run out of natural gas in the dead of winter, it imported Russian fuel to save residents from weeks-long cold. The ripple effects continued in February as Holyoke Gas announced it, too, was forced to stop new natural gas hookups to residents and businesses without new energy supplies.

The problems in New York and Massachusetts took root years ago with political stunts and regulatory delays to deny new natural gas pipelines, causing the problems we see in those states today. There’s no easy solution in sight, unless pending projects are fast-tracked — particularly for next winter.

New Jersey’s future will look the same should policymakers hastily ban new gas pipeline construction or seek to delay projects that are critical to advancing our own energy security and economic growth. Imagine the ripple effect: a major pharmaceutical or manufacturing company being turned away because a utility company couldn’t guarantee it reliable energy, or an end to providing new customers with the low-cost natural gas they expect.

New Jersey is already a model when it comes to clean power. Marked emission reductions have been achieved because of responsible state leadership to advance natural gas investments, both for electricity generation and home heating needs. In fact, over 90 percent of the state’s electricity is provided by carbon-free nuclear power and clean, low-emission natural gas. Three out of four New Jersey customers already heat their homes with natural gas, too.

Ernest Moniz, President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary and an MIT physicist, has not only called natural gas a common-sense bridge to a low-carbon future, but that extreme renewable-only mandates like those contained in the recently announced Green New Deal are “impracticable unrealizable objectives.” 

Here in New Jersey, our clean and efficient power sector accounts for just 16 percent of carbon emissions, yet our cars and trucks emit three times that amount. Addressing our transportation sector is the best opportunity for our state to advance our climate goals. 

Most important, natural gas is a critical energy resource that is lowering bills. Public Service Electric & Gas, for example, has said a typical customer’s bill is $844 per year lower than in 2008. This is a victory in particular for the state’s seniors on fixed incomes and the working poor — as well as our ability to attract and keep businesses.

Natural gas is an indispensable part of New Jersey’s energy mix, and has earned its place in a low-carbon, cleaner energy future by providing reliable and affordable heat, electricity and fuel. Stopping new natural gas supplies through a short-sighted moratorium will only take us backward in getting to our shared clean energy goals, while jeopardizing our economy and threatening higher bills. 

Mike Stiles is the business manager at Pipefitters Local 274.

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Numbers game: Fixing Meadowlands transportation issues is more important than fixing blame

While others were playing the blame game following the latest transportation problem/debacle at MetLife Stadium, Jim Kirkos was doing the math problem.

And he got the same answer he got before WrestleMania came to the Meadowlands last week. In fact, he got the same answer he got before Super Bowl XLVIII came there in 2014.

New Jersey Transit, as the system is currently designed, can move approximately 10,000-12,000 people an hour, he said. That’s the issue.

So, if you have a situation where 30,000 people want to use it at approximately the same time — like the end of a major event at the stadium — it’s going to take three hours to handle the volume.

More importantly, if the region keeps getting that answer, the area is not going to be able to capitalize on the economic benefits such major events bring.

That’s why Kirkos, the longtime CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, is trying to make a solution the topic of conversation — rather than trying to blame the post-event problem on officials from NJ Transit, MetLife Stadium, WWE or either of our most recent governors.

“I always want to look through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror,” he said. “I think it’s important for us all to understand just how important big events at the sports complex at the stadium are for economic impact — and that we need to make ensuring the transportation infrastructure in all modes will allow us to leverage our ability to bring these big events here a top priority.

File photo
Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re building these great destination-related assets and we have to get it right. It’s beholden on all entities to make sure that we can give visitors a great experience.”

That wasn’t the case last Monday, when fans leaving the WrestleMania event (in the pouring rain) discovered just how many people could (and couldn’t) get through the station in a timely manner.

“No train, we riot,” it was reported many chanted.

You can be sure that won’t be part of the marketing campaign to try to lure WrestleMania, the Super Bowl and — let’s not forget — the final of the 2026 World Cup to New Jersey.

Here’s what will, Kirkos said: a comprehensive plan.

“If somebody wants to come back or bring a new event here and that issue is raised, everybody’s going to need to sit down and provide some assurances this type of thing won’t happen again,” he said. “We need to not only have a Plan A and Plan B and maybe even have a Plan C.

“But we need to have long-term plans to complete the mobility issue because, at the end of the day, it’s really about that.”

The problem isn’t new. 

“The fact that we built the train line to the train station and we dropped the idea of continuing the loop is unacceptable,” Kirkos said.

And it’s an issue that’s talked about repeatedly.

“Transportation and infrastructure investment have been one of our top priorities, always has been,” he said. “Especially for the last 15 or 20 years.

“There is never a comment about economic development that isn’t led or followed by it. We need to focus on our ability to move people and create good mobility experiences. I think that’s the message here for everybody.”

So, ignore the blame game, Kirkos said. 

Solve the math problem instead.

“We, as a region and as a state, have yet to complete the transportation infrastructure that’s necessary to leverage all that we can from an economic development and a tourism destination standpoint,” he said. “All of our priority must go to that, now and in the future.”

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Bottom line: A millionaire’s tax doesn’t work

New Jersey’s economic growth continues to be plagued by a lack of affordability, competitiveness and outmigration.

Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed an increase in the “millionaire’s tax” designed to raise $447 million — about 1% of the $38.6 billion proposed in the fiscal 2020 budget.

By raising this relatively insignificant percentage of the budget, the governor is potentially jeopardizing the fair economy he has been trying to build since his inauguration.

The problem is the “net” contribution of the proposed tax will be far less than the “gross” $447 million.

There are roughly 37,000 taxpayers in New Jersey who would be affected by the governor’s proposed tax hike. The administration has based its $447 million projection on the untenable assumption that none of these high-income residents moves out of the state.

Recently, state Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio stated that the administration sees no outmigration trend.

The administration needs to look a little harder.

A study by the financial research firm Wealth-X, which received broad coverage in January, showed 5,700 millionaires moved out of New Jersey and the New Jersey area in 2018 alone.

James Hughes, a Rutgers University economist, said U.S. Census data shows that New Jersey is losing at least a thousand people a week, and this group includes a significant number of high-wage earners.

It would be unreasonable to assume that high-income residents (who have the financial means to move) will not continue their flight to more financially friendly environs where state income taxes are considerably less.

Using the administration’s numbers, the 37,000 taxpayers eligible to pay this new tax have, on average, $1.6 million in taxable income. They are already paying $148,000 in taxes based on current New Jersey rates. The governor’s proposal would require each of them, on average, to pay $12,000 more annually.

To be conservative, assume that only half (2,850) as many high-income earners leave New Jersey in 2019 as Wealth-X says left the area in 2018.

If 2,850 high income earners leave the Garden State, they would take with them the $148,000 each currently contributes to the state coffers. That total is $422 million.

The 34,150 high-income earners left in New Jersey to pay the new tax (at $12,000 per taxpayer) would raise a total of $410 million.

That means $410 million received, $422 million lost.

Looking at these numbers, there is only one question to ask: Why are we considering a new tax that will hurt our state’s economy, exacerbate our affordability, competitiveness and outmigration issues and, in all likelihood, lead to a loss — not a gain — in revenue?

Tom Bracken is CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, based in Trenton.

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Lottery winners shouldn’t be anonymous

A new bill pending in the New Jersey Senate, S2267, directs the State Lottery Commission to amend its regulations so the identities of lottery winners are not accessible under the Open Public Records Act, commonly called OPRA. The bill offers the winners of the lottery lifetime anonymity.

Pashman Stein Walder Hayden
CJ Griffin is a partner with Pashman Stein Walder Hayden.

In 2013, former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill that would have allowed lottery winners to remain anonymous for one year because he claimed it “could undermine the transparency that provides taxpayers confidence in the integrity of the Lottery and its games.” Similar bills have recently failed in other states, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently vetoing such a bill in New York.

S2267 raises major concerns. While Christie’s track record on transparency was notoriously pretty bad, on this issue he was right.

Without disclosure of the name of the winner(s), what protections are in place to combat corruption?

What will prevent lottery insiders from rigging the game?

What will prevent the person who purchased tickets for the office pool from collecting the cash anonymously and quietly resigning without telling co-workers that the office pool tickets won?

What will give lottery ticket purchasers confidence that the money was really distributed to a legitimate winner and that the commission didn’t just make up a fake winner and pocket all the profits?

It’s true that “lottery fame” can be a hassle and that many winners describe winning as both the best and worst thing to happen to them. But, transparency is important. It guards against corruption and reassures lottery ticket purchasers that the money was properly awarded to a legitimate winner in a fair game.

Those who do not want the fame that comes from winning millions and millions of dollars should opt out of playing the game. The risks of legislating anonymity for lottery winners are real and we need to have assurances that these games are legitimate. S2267 should not be passed. Rather, when someone buys a lottery ticket, they do so with the understanding that the public has a right to know who the lucky winner is.

CJ Griffin is a partner with Pashman Stein Walder Hayden P.C.

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With Murphy in office, NJ Future feels nothing can disrupt the progress it preaches

Gov. Phil Murphy couldn’t resist.

As the hecklers and protesters continued to scream at him from 20 or so feet away, Murphy didn’t lose his cool, didn’t raise his voice, didn’t — as he, himself, pointed out later, tell them to “Shut up and sit down.” He just continued on with his remarks at the annual New Jersey Future Redevelopment Forum at the Hyatt in New Brunswick.

But he threw in a little dig, too.

“I hope you’re protesting the governors of Oklahoma and Texas, too,” he said.

The crowd roared.

Tom Bergeron/ROI-NJ
The forum sold out quickly, with an audience of more than 600.

Murphy went on with his remarks, talking about creating a more sustainable state, rebuilding mass transit and investing in clean energy. He reiterated his support for incentives — and his belief that incentives alone are not enough to grow the state.

And he reiterated his ultimate dream.

“We have put such a focus on taking a longer view and thinking of the New Jersey we want to be in five or 10 years or beyond, not just this year or next year,” he said. “It’s why I signed an executive order for the Board of Public Utilities to create a new energy master plan to help us achieve our goal of a 100 percent clean energy economy in New Jersey by the year 2050.”

The talk was nothing new for the more than 600 people in a standing-room-only crowd.

The fact that a sitting governor was at the forum, was.

So said NJ Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach.

“We’re really excited that this governor is very much aligned with our smart growth redevelopment agenda,” he said. “When we have conversations with him and his staff, they’re all saying the right things, they’re all going in the right direction, policy-wise.

“Now, it’s a matter of starting to put the wheels of government and the gears of government moving in the right direction so that we can start getting action quicker than we all that we have in the past.”

Murphy’s 18-minute speech was right out of the NJ Future playbook.

“We are committed to achieving the vision of a more sustainable future that is shared by everyone in this room,” he said. “A strong New Jersey is more resilient, it runs on clean energy and is home to thriving and dynamic downtowns where people work in both new buildings and historic ones refurbished for tomorrow.

“A stronger New Jersey has safe and reliable mass transit for people to get to school and work and serves as anchors for smartly developed communities.”

Kasabach was thrilled to hear it.

“This governor is moving more in the direction of being very environmentally responsible, very community-oriented,” he said. “We’re now looking more broadly at how economic development can affect more people.

“So, it’s a shift. And the policy shift moves it in a little bit in a direction. It will never go as fast or as far as people want it.”

Murphy laughed off the group of protesters — as well as another who interrupted the speech from the back of the room later, saying there always is room for alternative ideas.

NJ Future
Peter Kasabach of NJ Future.

Kasabach said it comes with the territory.

“I think it’s true in any policy world you’re in, there’s always going to be two extremes,” he said. “And there are extremes on both sides. And we’re very comfortable that those extremes keep coming up and they keep making their case, and we’re comfortable with the governor moving in the direction that he’s moving.”

NJ Future, after years of feeling as if it didn’t have a voice, is just glad it has one again, Kasabach said.

And, judging by the record crowd — the conference actually closed registration earlier in the week — Kasabach feels the voice is gaining strength.

“When the policy winds are blowing against you, you have your hardcore folks who are working with you and you’re fighting the good fight,” he said.

“Once the winds start blowing in your direction, you start to create new allies, you get new opportunities to work with people. That part has been very good.”

Even if it means you have a few blowhards trying to interrupt your event.

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How gaming impacts the world positively

One of the greatest things about the tech revolution is just how much fun it can be at its best. Right now, that fun is extending into places it never existed before, creating new industries and business models. (And it might even boost some legacy industries, too.) 

We’ve heard plenty in recent years about gamification in business. And the field’s pioneers are increasingly learning from experience how to make it work — in other words, how to make it both effective and fun. But, thanks to four researchers from Brigham Young University, we’re now seeing evidence that shared electronic gameplay can promote collaboration and productivity even when teams are playing conventional games. And the improvements can be substantial. 

File photo
James Barrood of the New Jersey Tech Council.

Maybe that shouldn’t be a shock. As Ladders reports, BYU’s researchers pointed to ways in which video games help people maximize focus, reinforce repetition, promote trust and communication among people who didn’t previously know each other, and support the brain’s ability to remember and organize information. It would almost be more surprising if that didn’t improve productivity. 

Those business benefits are the excuse I used recently when I permanently relocated our family’s Xbox to the Tech Council’s New Brunswick office — much to my daughters’ chagrin. But, then, they’re getting some authentic benefits from gamification, too. As creators and collaborators on “Roblox,” they’re building friendships through collaborative play they direct themselves, in appealing environments that actually do spark their imaginations. “Roblox” even gives them a gentle introduction to coding, with its kid-friendly tools for building new games. From all I can see, when they’re on “Roblox,” they’re having the positive experience you’d hope “social” would be. 

We’re all familiar with the simulation elements of games, but many of us don’t realize how they can be used to build empathy by sharing the experiences of other human beings. Some of us encountered this first a couple of years ago with the profoundly moving game “ThatDragonCancer,” built by Ryan and Amy Green to share their family’s experience living through the life and death of their son Joel. More recently, as The New York Times reported, the game “Chinese Parents” has been helping Chinese youth and their parents understand each other better, by simulating the experience of raising a child from birth to college. Those players are experiencing the game as fun — but a very deep and connected form of fun. 

With the kind of brain impact that videogames can clearly have, they might even be able to offer some clinical benefits. And we’re seeing companies attempt to program games that target specific cognitive systems, aiming to ameliorate ADHD and several other conditions. If that work continues to progress, games might soon complement or supplant existing therapies. And, of course, a videogame can be cost-effectively “administered” virtually anywhere. 

Finally, as conventional sports face growing challenges and declining viewership, they just might be saved by the growth of online sports betting. That issue is getting plenty of attention in New Jersey, thanks to its recent legalization here. (If you’re interested in the impact and implications of online sports betting, join us at the Tech Council’s April 11 Venture Conference at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, where DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish will keynote and share his unique insight at the center of this fast-growing industry.) 

We’ve all experienced plenty of negativity surrounding tech lately, some of it deserved. But wouldn’t it be great if — after all that — the future is fun?

James Barrood is CEO and president, New Jersey Tech Council.

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