Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ) was busy advocating for our members and the interests of the entire South Jersey business community in Trenton. Of course, now our priorities have shifted to helping our members navigate this crisis, but we wanted to share the some of the more non-COVID-19 issues and non-COVID-19 measures that the CCSNJ has worked on during the first quarter of the year.

Since March 16, the CCSNJ has been working remotely for the health and safety of our staff, however we have been in constant contact with the Administration and legislative leadership to help facilitate connections needed to manage this health crisis. We look forward to returning to normal operations in the weeks and months to come and will continue to work tirelessly for our members during the 219th Legislative Session. We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions on how we can better serve you. 
State Budget & Affordability Issues
FY2021 State Budget
On February 28, Governor Phil Murphy delivered the FY2021 budget address to a joint session of the Legislature. The $40.85 billion state budget consists of three general themes: boosting funding for public schools, stabilizing property taxes and tax fairness and contained nearly $1 billion in new taxes and fees.

In the address, Governor Murphy proposed extending the personal income tax rate – otherwise known as the “millionaire’s tax” - on those whose incomes fall between $1 and $5 million annually from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent. It is anticipated that this tax increase, should it receive legislative approval, would add $494 million in FY2021 revenue. Similar to last year, the Governor proposed a tiered version of the Corporate Responsibility Fee for private employers receiving state Medicaid benefits. The fee applies to both employees and dependents and is set at $325 for employers with 50-250 employees covered by Medicaid, $525 for 250-500 covered employees, and $725 for employers with more than 500 covered employees. Additionally, the Governor has called for a tax on opioid manufacturers and distributors generating $20 million in FY2021.

As for savings, the Governor announced this budget includes nearly $400 million in departmental cuts and approximately $174 million in proposed health benefits savings, all of which the CCSNJ was pleased to hear.

On March 12, at Rowan University’s Rhorer College of Business, the CCSNJ testified before the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee on the FY2021 state budget. The CCSNJ was again the only South Jersey business organization to weigh in on how the budget would impact the regional business community.

On April 1, due to the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced changes to the tax filing deadline and the state budget timetable. The Administration and legislative leadership reached agreement that the state income tax filing deadline and the corporation business tax filing deadline will be extended from April 15 to July 15, aligned with the new federal filing date.

In addition, there is an agreement to extend the state fiscal year to September 30, which will allow the Administration and the Legislature to fully focus on leading New Jersey out of the COVID-19 crisis, and to allow for a robust, comprehensive, and well-informed budget process later in the year. The CCSNJ looks forward to weighing in at that time.

To read the Joint press release regarding the change in the budget timeline, click here.

Agreement on New Jersey Educators
Health Plan (NJEHP)
The CCSNJ was proud to support S- 2273 (Sweeney) , the legislation which stemmed from a landmark agreement between Senate President Steve Sweeney and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) on health insurance policies and contributions.

Under the proposal, the state would eliminate some existing health care plans currently available to teachers and introduce two lower-cost alternatives, called the” New Jersey Educators Health Plan” (NJEHP) and the “Garden State Health Plan.” The new plan will be tied to a new salary-based contribution schedule; those electing to remain in the School Employees' Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) will be required to pay for their healthcare based on a percentage of their premium as determined under Chapter 78 requirements.

The agreement also calls for the creation of the new Garden State Health Plan in 2021, which will offer NJEA members the voluntary option of a plan that produces even more savings with a network of New Jersey-only healthcare providers. The plan will generate annual savings of at least $100 million, shared by employees and employers.

Over the years, the CCSNJ urged state government to reduce expenses by adopting best business practices. The reforms contained in S-2273 (Sweeney) make important and necessary changes that will provide real and lasting savings for property taxpayers.  
 
The bill passed the Senate unanimously on March 19 and awaits a hearing in the Assembly.
 
To read the CCSNJ position on the bill, click here.
Labor Mandates
Pay Equity Guidelines Unveiled
On March 2, Governor Phil Murphy unveiled the final compliance guidelines for the New Jersey “Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act,” otherwise know as the Equal Pay measure, which included over 40 “frequently asked questions” about the law.

The Governor signed the Equal Pay Act into law in April 2018. The statute, which took effect in July of 2018, strengthened the equal pay protections of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and is the most sweeping equal pay legislation in the nation.

Restrictive Scheduling
On January 27, Senator Loretta Weinberg introduced S-921 (Weinberg/Gill) , otherwise known as the " New Jersey Fair Workweek Act ." The stated goal of this legislation is to give employees a more predictable and stable work schedule. However, if enacted this bill would remove an employer’s ability to create a staffing schedule that fits their business’s needs, while greatly restricting an employee’s ability to create an accommodating schedule by switching swifts or picking up extra hours, should they so desire. CCSNJ created a coalition of members who are concerned about the potential impact of this legislation .

If passed, S-921 (Weinberg/Gill) requires any employer that employs 250 or more employees to provide notice of an employee’s schedule at least 14 days prior to the start of the work period. It also:
  • Requires the employer to provide a good-faith estimate of the employee’s projected schedule, although the term “good-faith” is loosely defined in the bill and up to subjective interpretation;
  • Requires an employer to pay an employee nine times the employee’s regular wage, or the minimum wage, whichever is larger, in retention pay for every 7-day work period;
  • Requires time-and-a-half for shifts worked by the employee within 12 hours of their most recent shift, and;
  • Imposes overburdensome administrative requirements and penalties for noncompliance by the employer.

However, to date the bill – which was initially slated to have a hearing in March - has not been considered.
 
Workforce & Economic Development Issues
Financial Empowerment Pilot Program
On February 13, the Senate Commerce Committee considered S-1196 (Pou) , which establishes a three-year “Financial Empowerment Pilot Program” in the cities of Camden, Newark and Paterson. The CCSNJ strongly supported this measure.

The bill would assist in enhancing financial literacy for economically vulnerable individuals, educating residents on the topics of credit management, savings, debt management, and homeownership. As currently written, the Program would be overseen by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) in consultation with the participating municipality, which has a vested interest in assuring their residents are educated on the importance of responsible financial planning. The municipality will also contract with a nonprofit provider to establish a financial empowerment center in their city that would serve as a resource for the community, as well as those participating in the program.

S-1196 (Pou) by a vote of 5-0 and awaits consideration by the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.

Apprenticeship Bills
The CCSNJ supported for the following bills, which encourage the advancement of apprenticeship programs in New Jersey:


The CCSNJ believes that these bills will help provide resources to fill significant gaps in the advanced workforce occupational skills and offer greater opportunities for a new generation of workers to access careers in high-skill, high-wage occupations. Additionally, and equally important, the measures would broaden the universe of individuals that can take advantage of these types of programs with a specific emphasis on underrepresented populations. Historically, apprenticeship programs have proved extremely effective in producing a highly skilled and highly paid workforce. Any incentives that can support and expand these opportunities is a welcome one. These three bills passed in the Assembly Labor Committee unanimously on January 27 and S-973 (Ruiz/Singleton) passed the full Senate unanimously on February 10. No action has been taken on these measures in the Assembly to date.

To read the CCSNJ testimony on the bills, click here.
F-35 Fighter Jet
The CCSNJ supported A-270 (Armato/Mazzeo), which would make a General Fund supplemental appropriation of $50,000 to the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) for air quality studies to support the campaign for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jets to be located at the 177th Air National Guard base. The CCSNJ is also a part of a larger coalition of business organizations supporting this campaign for the overall economic benefit of the county and the region. Specifically, it is estimated that upwards of 100 new jobs could be created, not including construction jobs, all of which would drive much needed economic activity to Atlantic County. Additionally, the Atlantic County-based facilities have already been designed to meet the needs of F-35 fighter jets making any modifications limited, minimizing overall relocation and basing costs. The bill passed the Assembly unanimously on February 24, 2020.

Additionally, on January 9, 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed SJR-83 , which expresses support for United States Air Force to base F-35 fighter jets at 177th Fighter Wing in Atlantic City.
 
To read the CCSNJ testimony, click here.
County Tourism Incentive Grant Funded
The CCSNJ supported S-488 (Brown/Beach) , which establishes a "County Tourism Incentive Grant Fund" within New Jersey Department of Treasury to provide funding for grants to counties to support tourism advertising and promotion. If implemented, the bill could assist in providing extra funding to one of the most critical industries in New Jersey: the tourism industry. Although tourism continues to be a main driver of New Jersey’s economy, especially in summer months, funding for tourism advertising and promotion have not followed proportionally year-over-year. S-488 (Brown/Beach) aims to help change this unfortunate trend. As currently written, the bill will give counties additional resources to strengthen tourism promotion, which is always a wise investment for the State. The bill passed out of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee unanimously on February 10, 2020.

To read the CCSNJ testimony on the bill, click here.
Energy & Environmental Issues
Energy Master Plan
On January 28, Governor Phil Murphy unveiled the New Jersey Energy Master Plan (EMP), which provides the roadmap to achieving the Governor’s ambitious goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The EMP lays out seven key strategies:
  • Reducing Energy Consumption and Emissions from the Transportation Sector;
  • Accelerating Deployment of Renewable Energy and Distributed Energy Resources;
  • Maximizing Energy Efficiency and Conservation and Reducing Peak Demand;
  • Reducing Energy Consumption and Emissions from the Building Sector;
  • Decarbonizing and Modernizing New Jersey’s Energy System;
  • Supporting Community Energy Planning and Action in Underserved Communities;
  • Expanding the Clean Energy Innovation Economy.

The Governor also signed Executive Order No. 100 , which directs the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to adopt regulatory reforms to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change within two year. The reforms, branded as “Protecting Against Climate Threats” (PACT), include:
  • Establishing a greenhouse gas monitoring and reporting program to identify all significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions and monitor the progress of emission reductions to reach the target of 80 percent below 2006 emission levels by 2050 required under the Global Warming Response Act;
  • Adopting new regulations under the Air Pollution Control Act to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and short-lived climate pollutants; and,
  • Reforming environmental land use regulations to incorporate climate change considerations into permitting decisions.

The NJDEP started a stakeholder process to include environmental advocates, industry, and business and the CCSNJ was happy to participate in the process on behalf of our members.

To read the Energy Master Plan, click here.
To read Executive Order No. 100, click here.
To read the CCSNJ’s Energy Master Plan testimony, click here .
COVID-19
Bill Package to Combat COVID-19’s Impact
On March 19, Governor Phil Murphy signed a package of bills into law that will help residents and businesses mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. The bills were signed mere days after the Legislature introduced passed these measures promptly understanding the severity of the situation on New Jersey residents and businesses. A brief overview of these bills can be found below. To date, the statutes have not been posted online.
Economic Relief Bills:
 
  • A-3845 / S-2284 (Freiman / Greenwald / Dancer / Stack) - Authorizes EDA to make grants during periods of emergency declared by Governor and for duration of economic disruptions due to emergency; allows EDA to grant certain business documentation submission deadline extensions.
  • A-3861 / S-2290 (Karabinchak / Johnson / Greenwald / Diegnan) - Permits corporations to hold shareholders' meetings in part or solely by means of remote communication during state of emergency.
  • A-3865 / S-2291 (Chaparro / Reynolds-Jackson / Verrelli / Addiego) - Limits return of items purchased from retail food stores under certain circumstances.
 
Other Bills Included in the Package:

  •  A-3095 / S-1982 (Mazzeo / Beach / Turner) - Provides county clerks with additional week to mail ballots for 2020 primary election; requires ballot position draw to occur one day early if statutory date falls on holiday.
  •  A-3840 / S-2281 (Lampitt / Quijano / Ruiz / Cunningham) - Requires school districts to provide school meals or meal vouchers to students eligible for free and reduced price school meals during school closures due to COVID-19 epidemic.
  • A-3843 / S-2283 (McKeon / Bramnick / Chaparro / Vitale / Lagana) - Requires health insurance and Medicaid coverage for testing of coronavirus disease 2019 and for telemedicine and telehealth during coronavirus disease 2019 state of emergency.
  • A-3848 / S-2301 (Lopez / Munoz / Downey / Weinberg) - Concerns time off from work in connection with infectious disease.
  •  A-3849 / S-2302 (Johnson / Moen / Timberlake / Bucco) - Modifies deadline by which public agency is required to respond to request for government record during period of emergency.
  • A-3850 / S-2294 (Murphy / DeCroce / Moen / Beach / Bucco) - Allows public bodies to conduct meetings, and provide notice, by electronic means during periods of emergency.
  • A-3851 / S-2295 (Schaer / Scharfenberger / Reynolds-Jackson / Bucco / Gopal) - Permits extension of deadlines for adoption of county and municipal budgets under certain circumstances.
  • A-3854 / S-2286 (Conaway / Munoz / Benson / Vitale / Gill) - Authorizes all licensed health care facilities and laboratories to collect specimens to test for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); allows waiver of staffing ratio requirements.
  • A-3855 / S-2287 (Mosquera / Stanfield / Vainieri Huttle / Kean / Codey) - Requires food access information be displayed on websites of 2-1-1 system and executive branch departments during public health emergencies to the extent practicable.
  • A-3860 / S-2289 (Pinkin / DeCroce / Benson / Vitale) - Establishes certain requirements to use telemedicine and telehealth to respond to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  •  A-3862 / S-2298 (Giblin / Armato / Houghtaling / Pou / Kean) - Permits professional and occupational licensing boards to expedite licensure of certain individuals during state of emergency or public health emergency.
  •  AJR-158 / SJR-77 (DeAngelo / DePhillips) - Urges FCC to take temporary measures to secure broadband access for those affected by COVID-19.

To read the CCSNJ’s desk letter, click here .
NJEDA Assistance Programs COVID-19
Impacted Businesses
On March 26, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) Board of Directors voted on measures to provide business assistance for a variety of businesses affected by COVID-19. The package includes a grant program for small businesses, a zero-interest loan program for mid-size companies, support for private-sector lenders and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), funding for entrepreneurs, and a variety of resources providing technical support and marketplace information. Taken together, they will provide more than $75 million of State and private financial support, with the opportunity to grow to more than $100 million if additional philanthropic, State, and federal resources become available. The initiatives will support between 3,000 and 5,000 small and midsize enterprises and are meant to complement recently announced federal economic recovery initiatives.

As of April 3 the application process is open at:  COVID-19 Business Information Hub

The below links provide more information, including full eligibility criteria.

Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program  – A $5 million program that will provide grants up to $5,000 to small businesses in retail, arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, food service, and other services – such as repair, maintenance, personal, and laundry services – to stabilize their operations and reduce the need for layoffs or furloughs.  Learn more

Small Business Emergency Assistance Loan Program  – A $10 million program that will provide working capital loans of up to $100,000 to businesses with less than $5 million in revenues. Loans made through the program will have ten-year terms with zero percent for the first five years, then resetting to the EDA’s prevailing floor rate (capped at 3.00 percent) for the remaining five years.

Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) Emergency Loan Loss Reserve Fund  – A $10 million capital reserve fund to take a first loss position on CDFI loans that provide low interest working capital to micro businesses. This will allow CDFIs to withstand loan defaults due to the outbreak, which will allow them to provide more loans at lower interest rates to microbusinesses affected by the outbreak.

CDFI Emergency Assistance Grant Program  – A $1.25 million program that will provide grants of up to $250,000 to CDFIs to scale operations or reduce interest rates for the duration of the outbreak.

NJ Entrepreneur Support Program  – A $5 million program that will encourage continued capital flows to new companies, often in the innovation economy, and temporarily support a shaky market by providing 80 percent loan guarantees for working capital loans to entrepreneurs.

Small Business Emergency Assistance Guarantee Program  – A $10 million program that will provide 50 percent guarantees on working capital loans and waive fees on loans made through institutions participating in the NJEDA’s existing Premier Lender or Premier CDFI programs.

Emergency Technical Assistance Program  – A $150,000 program that will support technical assistance to New Jersey-based companies applying for State and US Small Business Administration programs. The organizations contracted will be paid based on SBA application submissions supported by the technical assistance they provide.


Please visit http://cv.business.nj.gov for additional details. 
As always, your feedback is important to us.
If you have any comment, questions or suggestions please contact Hilary Beckett, Manager, Government Affairs, at hbeckett@chambersnj.com or by clicking here .
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