State’s Top Official provided Keynote for Chapter’s Annual Public Policy Symposium

“The people in this room represent those who have hung in with New Jersey during difficult times,” Gov. Chris Christie told the 200 attendees of the Annual Public Policy Symposium of NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate development association. The members-only event was held at the Sheraton Edison.

“After the financial crisis of 2008-2009, many people would have given up on this state, on our ability to recover, and as a good and friendly place to do business,” Christie said. “The people in this room did not. Everything you build, everything you do, all the jobs you create are making this a better place for our children and grandchildren. Thank you for being part of the backbone of this state’s business community. My administration will continue to work with you as partners.”

Focusing on “where we’ve been and where we’re headed,” Christie cited a recessionary loss of jobs, a pre-recessionary fiscal climate of taxes and fees increased 115 times in eight years, a regulatory system “running amok” and, more recently, the after-effects of hurricane Sandy. “Things in New Jersey had ground to a halt,” he said.

The overriding issue, he said, is government spending. “The only way to bring government spending down is to make government smaller at every level, and we have done that,” he said. “Did anyone, after hurricane Sandy, think we didn’t have enough government to deal with the needs of our state, both in preparing for the storm and dealing with the aftermath? What we have accomplished destroys the myth that we don’t have enough government. The more government takes, the less there is to create jobs in the private sector, and businesses have benefited over the last two years and will benefit over the next three years from a total of $2.3 billion in business tax reductions.”

As to addressing the regulatory climate and New Jersey’s reputation as a difficult place to do business, Christie cited a “one-third reduction in regulations in the first year of my administration.” He specifically noted improvements at the New Jersey DEP under Bob Martin: “DEP is far from perfect, but it is significantly more friendly than under the previous administration. Many people have told me that now, at least they’re getting answers.”

Noting that the state has “spent billions of dollars incentivizing businesses to stay, relocate and grow in New Jersey,” he offered strong support for a bill in the legislature that would make the Grow NJ plan “bigger and broader than the current plan. We hope to get it through the legislature by the end of March/beginning of April, so we can begin to arm you with all of the tools to continue the great momentum that we have here in New Jersey,” Christie said.

“When he was elected governor, NAIOP New Jersey was one of the first groups he addressed,” said Michael McGuinness, the chapter’s CEO. “Today, the fact that he’s back is recognition of the impact this industry has on New Jersey’s economy and how important the industry is to the post-Sandy recovery.”

In an interactive discussion led by NAIOP New Jersey president Michael Seeve of Mountain Development Corp. and Public Affairs chairman Richard Cureton of Whitesell Construction, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald addressed several key public policy issues. Seeve noted “how strongly commercial real estate is tied to New Jersey’s economic well-being,” and Cureton prefaced the discussion by noting all of the issues “in the news,” including the latest Washington buzzword – “sequester.”

On the subject of economic development and job growth, Sweeney spoke of the impact of Superstorm Sandy on the economy but cautioned that the aftermath of the storm can’t itself “be the recovery” fuel for the state’s economy. Agreeing that there has been “a bad policy and regulatory climate over many years, we’ve got a lot of work still to do, and the private sector can do a lot. We are moving in the right direction.”

Responding to a question from Seeve about New Jersey’s utility infrastructure, particularly post-Sandy, “we have to look into new technology,” Sweeney said, specifically noting fuel cell technology. “Let’s take a deep breath and fix it the right way.”

In terms of the infrastructure in general, “how can we deal with subsequent events without these infrastructure improvements?” Greenwald asked.

On the subject of COAH, “no one has explained to me why we have it – why commercial real estate is penalized and responsible for creating affordable housing,” Sweeney said. “We need commercial real estate to create jobs so people can buy homes.”

Greenwald agreed: “It is an obstacle for NAIOP New Jersey members and commercial real estate. We are addressing these issues and, in a larger sense, want to hear from you about job creation and how to accomplish it.”

As to high property taxes, Sweeney urged shared municipal services to reduce costs. “Arguing against shared services and consolidation is like arguing against motherhood and apple pie,” Greenwald added.

On the subject of incentives, Sweeney noted that most of the benefits—97 percent— have gone to North Jersey and urged that more of those benefits be shared with Central and South Jersey. Both Sweeney and Greenwald represent districts in South Jersey.

Greenwald agreed, noting that he and Sweeney “are working together to expand the incentive programs statewide.” One particular target: Camden.

Turning to Washington, specifically the so-called “sequester” issue, “how will that impact New Jersey?” Cureton asked. “I don’t see much of an impact from sequester,” said Sweeney. “It’s all about the ‘games in Washington’.”

In a follow-up presentation, Aquiles Suarez, NAIOP corporate Vice President of Public Affairs addressed those “games in Washington:” “Politics is always part of these issues,” he said. “It has gotten out of control and is a difficult environment.”

Beyond “sequester,” key issues in Washington impacting commercial real estate include everything from tax policy, including tax extenders; to transportation; infrastructure; entitlements; and regulatory matters, including lease accounting.

“There is a component in Washington that doesn’t want deals,” Suarez said. “It is a difficult environment, and it will be difficult to get out of this dynamic any time soon.”

“A great deal has changed over the past year,” McGuinness concluded. “In some ways, we’ve barely begun to grasp Sandy’s impact, coupled with such other issues as the infrastructure, workforce, and land use laws. The governor and the legislature have made a great start, but there is a lot more to be done, especially at the municipal level.”