Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ)’s singular focus has been to help our members navigate the economic crisis created by the pandemic in every way possible. Not only have we supported and continue to encourage additional assistance for businesses impacted by COVID-19, but the CCSNJ created a regional reopening plan which, at the time of its release in in early-May, supported businesses reopening in the South Jersey region first.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has continued to adapt to the “new normal,” holding virtual and in-person committee hearings that the CCSNJ has participated in. While the CCSNJ has kept a keen eye on public policy initiatives related to the health emergency, the Legislature has also considered a series of non-COVID issues that impact member companies and the region. This FY2021 state budget has been like no other including a 3-month “bridge” budget, as well as a revised 9-month budget to finish out the fiscal year. This budget had no good news for businesses: new taxes, increased existing taxes, added borrowing, and meager spending cuts within state government.

The CCSNJ continues to be in constant contact with the Administration and Legislature to help ascertain the information and facilitate the connections that our valued members desperately need as New Jersey continues to navigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions on how we can better serve you and your thoughts on the issues the CCSNJ has weighed in on during the third quarter of 2020. 
State Budget & Affordability Issues
Revised FY2021 Budget 
On August 25, Governor Murphy delivered the revised FY2021 budget address at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium. The $32.4 billion state budget proposal called for new taxes, as well as tax increases, $4.5 billion in borrowing, some spending cuts and direct federal cash assistance. The $4.5 billion in borrowing included in the budget proposal was given the green light by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled it constitutional in a unanimous decision prior to the address. In its decision, the Court stated that government can only issue bonds or borrow funds due to the fiscal emergency caused by COVID-19 and not for other reasons.
 
After abbreviated budget hearings that did not allow for public testimony from groups like the CCSNJ, Governor Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin announced that a deal had been reached. The announcement came well in advance of the budget deadline of September 30, with the Legislature voting on September 24 and the Governor signing it into law on September 29.

The final $32.7 billion FY2021 state budget includes:
A-10/S-2949 (Coughlin/Addiego): a millionaire’s tax, which would increase the rate of taxation on incomes in excess of $1 million from the current rate of 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent. 
A-4721/S-2934 (Sumter/Sweeney): reversing the January 1 Corporation Business Tax (CBT) rate decline and extending the recent 2.5 percent CBT surtax though 2023.
A-4722/S-2935 (McKeon/Pou): an increase to the current annual assessment on net written premiums of HMOs from three percent to five percent.

The CCSNJ opposed all of the above tax increases during the abbreviated budget process.

The revised FY2021 budget also includes a $2.5 billion surplus, as well as a $4.7 billion contribution to the pension fund for public workers and the aforementioned $4.5 billion in borrowing. The “baby bonds” initiative initially proposed by Governor Murphy during his budget address, which would give certain newborns $1,000 at birth, was not a part of the final budget.

The CCSNJ remains extremely disappointed by the final FY2021 state budget that increases taxes at a time New Jersey residents and businesses can ill-afford it and does not take into consideration the longstanding impact of borrowing, which can only lead to higher taxes on already overburdened residents and businesses of the state.

Select Commission on Emergency COVID-19 Borrowing
On September 28, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ) testified before the Select Commission on Emergency COVID-19 Borrowing regarding the proposed issuance of $4.5 billion in General Obligation Bonds. 

CCSNJ Manager of Government Affairs Hilary Chebra testified that the longstanding impact of any borrowing plan cannot be understated – adding to the state’s already enormous debt, which can only lead to higher taxes on already overburdened residents and businesses. It is also quite likely that this level of borrowing will cause New Jersey to receive a downgrade in credit rating and overall fiscal outlook. 
  
To read the CCSNJ's written testimony, click here.
COVID-19 Legislation
The CCSNJ has been pleased to see the Legislature’s continued focus on ensuring that businesses have the proper tools to mitigate the looming economic crisis a result of COVID-19. Below is a summary of the COVID-19 related bills that the CCSNJ weighed in on over the past three months.
COVID-19 Assistance Programs
S-2596 (Ruiz / Cruz-Perez): Appropriates $5 million in federal funds to Department of Health for grants to farmers for purchase of protective health materials for farm workers.
  • This bill passed the Senate on July 30 and passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 24.
S- 2488 (Singleton/Scutari): Allocates $50 million to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development from federal government assistance to improve unemployment insurance benefit claims processing capacity.
  • The bill the Senate on August 27 and awaits consideration by the Assembly Labor Committee.
S-2504 (Ruiz/Madden): Excludes unemployment benefits paid during the coronavirus pandemic state of emergency from the calculation of employer unemployment contributions and payments in lieu of contributions.
  • The bill passed the Senate Labor Committee on August 10 and was referred to the Senate Budget Committee. 
S-2704 (Sweeney/Gopal/Bucco): Appropriates $30 million to NJEDA from the federal "Coronavirus Relief Fund" to assist food establishments impacted by Executive Order No. 158.
  • The bill passed both houses on August 27 and now awaits action by Governor Murphy. 
COVID-19 Labor Mandates
S-989 (Weinberg/Greenstein) "Healthy Terminals Act": Requires certain airport and train station workers to be paid certain wage rates and benefits.
  • The bill passed the Senate Labor Committee on August 10 and was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
A-3999/S-2380 (Sweeney/Singer/Greenstein/Giblin / Burzichelli / Murphy): Creates a rebuttable presumption that health care workers, public safety workers, and other essential employees who contract COVID-19 at work are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits and other employment benefits provided for work-related injuries and illnesses.
Business Flexibility & Workforce Development 
A-3996/S-2451 (Lopez/McKnight/Karabinchak/ Ruiz): Provides for waivers of contract penalties and modification of contract terms on public contracts between non-profit organizations and State agencies for failure to perform due to COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The bill passed in the Assembly unanimously on May 14 and the Senate on August 27. The bill is in the Assembly on second reading on concurrence and awaits a final vote. 
  • To read the CCSNJ position, click here.
S-2512 (Scutari/Singleton): Directs the State Auditor to audit the Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance in DOLWD.
  • The bill was passed out of the Senate Labor Committee and awaits consideration by the full senate. 
A-3965 (Moen/Greenstein/Cruz-Perez): Expands the existing New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) loan program to include certain small producers and retailers of alcoholic beverages.
Regional Reopening Approach to Business
On August 20, the CCSNJ testified before the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee on the impact of the pandemic on the economies of the State's regions and the consideration of a regional reopening approach. The CCSNJ was proud to represent the South Jersey business community during the hearing, advocating for a data driven, geographic approach to reopening the State's economy.

In her testimony, CCSNJ President & CEO Christina M. Renna noted that the CCSNJ's Economic Reopening and Recovery Plan for South Jersey, which was released in May, advocated for a staggered, regional reopening approach that prioritizes certain areas in South Jersey and low-risk industries for reopening as quickly and safely as possible. However, she testified that given the changes in health data and the spikes that have been seen in the region, a broad based regional approach no longer makes sense, however a geographic approach that hyper targets areas of positive health data is the geographic reopening approach the state should consider.
Atlantic City
The CCSNJ was pleased to see the Legislature focus on helping Atlantic City over recent months. Before the pandemic, Atlantic City casinos directly employed more than 26,000 people and gaming revenue was up approximately 23 percent in early 2020. However, that drastically changed on March 16 when Governor Murphy closed all casinos as the coronavirus pandemic’s impact quickly approached New Jersey. According to the Spring 2020 edition of The South Jersey Economic Review released by Stockton University, the economic output lost during the casino shutdown is only a portion of the problem. Deemed the “COVID-19 drag” the gaming and hospitality industries are seeing an elongated operational strain due to the need for spacing and capacity issues since their reopening on July 2. The CCSNJ supported the following bills:
A-299/S1591 (Mazzeo/Armato/Beach/Brown): Allows alcoholic beverages to be consumed outdoors in the Atlantic City Tourism District.
A-4002(Caputo/Dancer/Murphy): Allows for the deduction of promotional gaming credit from gross revenue on sports wagering.
  • The bill passed the Assembly on September 24 and awaits a hearing in the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee. 
Atlantic City Restart and Recovery Working Group
On July 14, Governor Murphy and Lieutenant Governor Oliver presided over the first meeting of the Atlantic City Restart and Recovery Working Group. The group, comprised of members of the existing Atlantic City Executive Council and other regional stakeholders, is examining the post-COVID-19 recovery of Atlantic City, including continued efforts for citywide economic diversification, workforce development, and improved public health. 

The CCSNJ is proud to have our President & CEO Christina Renna appointed to serve as Vice-Chair of the Working Group. Ms. Renna made the following statement after the announcement, “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in ways we could have never imagined. As the largest regional business group in South Jersey, we are acutely aware that when Atlantic City prospers the entire region flourishes – people are working, businesses are thriving, economic activity is growing – and as a result, the entire state is prosperous. The pandemic has certainly hit Atlantic City in some of the hardest ways possible, but the Task Force and its talented members are the right people to help reposition Atlantic City for the recovery we know it can and will have moving forward.”  

Non-COVID-19 Legislation
Workforce & Economic Development Issues
A-2773 (Mazzeo): Allows certain preserved farms to hold 14 special occasion events per year; imposes further event restrictions on residentially exposed preserved farms.
A-850 (Chiaravalloti/Karabinchak): Establishes "Community Broadband Study Commission.”
  • The bill passed the Assembly on August 27 and now awaits consideration by the Senate. 
S-1158 (Ruiz/Pou): Provides tuition fee waiver apprenticeship courses.
  • The bill passed out of the Senate Labor Committee on August 10 and was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. 
S-1159 (Ruiz/Greenstein): Provides corporation business tax and gross income tax credits for businesses that employ apprentices in DOL registered apprenticeships.
  • The bill passed out of the Senate Labor Committee on August 10 and was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. 
S-1767(Singer): Prohibits certain third-party property tax appeals.
  • The bill passed the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on July 16. It awaits action by the full Senate. 
Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives 
A-3201/S-2585 (Murphy/Rice): Recognizes Howell House in Cape May as Harriet Tubman Museum in New Jersey.
S-855/A-3594 (Sweeney/Pennacchio): Renames "board of chosen freeholders", to "board of county commissioners" and "freeholder" and "chosen freeholder" to "county commissioner"; requires counties to update materials to reflect this title change.
S-CR96 (Rice/Cunningham): Amends State Constitution to prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude.
  • The bill was passed out of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee on July 22. It awaits a vote by the full Senate. 
S-19/A-4315 (Sweeney/Reynolds-Jackson): Designates, as State and public holiday, the third Friday in June as Juneteenth Day.
S-2768 (Singleton / Ruiz): Authorizes State Chief Diversity Officer to conduct disparity study concerning utilization of minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the State procurement process.
  • The bill passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee on September 17 and awaits consideration from the full Senate.
S-2769 (Singleton / Ruiz): Establishes "Minority Business Development Program" in the NJEDA; appropriates $50 million to the NJEDA from federal funds.
  • The bill passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee on September 17 and awaits consideration from the full Senate. 
S-2770 (Singleton / Ruiz): Establishes the position of the Minority Depository Institution Coordinator at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). 
  • The bill passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee on September 17 and awaits consideration from the full Senate. 
S-2771 (Singleton): Establishes the "Rural Business Development Program" at the NJEDA; appropriates $35 million to the NJEDA from federal funds. 
  • The bill passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee on September 17 and awaits consideration from the full Senate. 
S-2772 (Singleton): Establishes the "Biannual Business Matchmaker Initiative" in the Department of State.
  • The bill passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee on September 17 and awaits consideration from the full Senate. 
Energy & Environmental Issues
S-2515 (Smith): Establishes recycled content requirements for plastic containers, glass containers, paper carryout bags, reusable carryout bags made of plastic film, and plastic trash bags; prohibits sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging.
  • The bill was posted for a hearing on September 17 but was held.
A-2152 (Murkerji): Provides for priority consideration, by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Transportation, and municipalities, of permit applications for green building projects. 
  • This bill was passed by the Assembly Environment Committee on July 20. It awaits a vote by the full Assembly. 
S-864/A-1978 (Pinkin/Smith): Prohibits the use of plastic carryout bags, expanded polystyrene, and single-use plastic straws.
  • The bill passed both houses on September 24 and awaits action by Governor Murphy. 
S-232/A-2212 (Singleton/Weinberg McKeon/VaineriHuttle/Timberlake): Requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to evaluate environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities (otherwise known as the environmental justice legislation).
Healthcare 
A-1135/S-357 (Coughlin/Cryan/Vitale): Reinstates prior property tax exemption for nonprofit hospitals with on-site for-profit medical providers; requires some of these hospitals to pay community service contributions; establishes Nonprofit Hospital Community Service Contribution Study Commission; prohibits certain third-party property tax appeals.
  • This bill passed the Assembly on September 24 and awaits consideration by the Senate. 
A-4389/S-2676 (McKeon/Vitale): Requires certain entities authorized to issue health benefits plans to pay annual assessment.
As always, your feedback is important to us.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions please contact Hilary Chebra, Manager, Government Affairs, at hchebra@chambersnj.com or by clicking here.
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