Late last month, business leaders, legislators and others gathered for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s 2023 Public Policy Forum in Woodbridge and considered the economic challenges facing the both the nation and the Garden State.
Michel Siekerka, President and CEO of the NJBIA, opened by focusing on the theme of this year’s event: Planning for Prosperity to Move New Jersey Forward.
“Well, it’s a big task for us right now,” Siekerka said. “We know the heavy plates New Jersey companies are hauling right now. We know the challenges of the continued impacts of COVID on businesses, our workforce challenges, record inflation, supply chain challenges, and more.
She noted that the event followed the NJBIA’s 63rd Annual Business Outlook Survey, which suggested opinions about the future were the bleakest since the Great Recession of 2009.
Among many key and startling findings from this survey, 75% of respondents said Governor Phil Murphy and lawmakers had not done enough to address business affordability in the past year, compared to just 5. % who said policy makers were doing enough. It also found that a total of 82% believe New Jersey is either somewhat unaffordable for business (46%) or not at all affordable for business (36%).
“We’re going to identify, we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to look at some of these challenges that you’ve all told us about,” Siekerka promised. “This year, you said, and you spoke loudly, the No. 1 concern for New Jersey businesses is the extremely high cost of doing business and the lack of affordability for businesses here in New Jersey. Jersey.”
Siekerka added that the organization also hoped to find comprehensive solutions during the program, which included several panel discussions, as well as prizes, exhibitors and a fireside chat with the President and CEO of Citizens Financial Group. , Bruce Van Saun, moderated by Brenda Ross-Dulan, Managing Director of the Ross-Dulan Group.
The first panel was a Legislative Leaders discussion with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District; John DiMaio, House Republican Leader, District R-23; Senate Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-36th District; and Republican Senate Leader Steve Oroho, R-24th District. The conversation was moderated by Siekerka and Eric Scott, New Jersey 101.5 morning news anchor and senior political director.
While the group mirrored a similar discussion at the recent League of Municipalities conference – with Sarlo replacing Senate Speaker Nick Scutari, D-22nd District – this event provided an opportunity for the group to face the community business to hear their concerns and propose solutions. .
Scott kicked off the panel by noting that after the shock results of the last election, affordability became the buzzword of the day, citing the results from the NJBIA outlook. “So I would ask our legislative panel, hearing these numbers, what is your reaction to this and what can Trenton do to improve the affordability climate for businesses?” Scott asked.
“The answer is that we can and should continually seek to do things that make New Jersey more affordable, not just for the business world, but for people in general,” Coughlin replied. “And we’ve undertaken a number of those things.”
He mentioned the ANCHOR property tax program and the back-to-school tax holiday as well as legislation to deal with the increase in unemployment insurance that businesses are facing. This last issue is hot and remains unresolved, becoming a big part of the discussion.
The speaker emphasized that work must continue with business partners to find a comprehensive way to change New Jersey’s image with respect to the business climate.
As Sarlo took his turn, Scott relied on the unemployment insurance issue raised by Coughlin and asked Sarlo what happened to the bill in the Senate. The measure was boosted at the 11th hour during budget negotiations, apparently at the request of the administration.
“A little disappointed when he got to the Senate and the comments from the administration were that they wanted to put a stop to it at that point and wouldn’t sign him,” Sarlo explained.
He added that work cannot stop on affordability and stressed that lawmakers must review and work with the business community on the issue of unemployment insurance, as well as allow the tax surtax. on companies to end next year. “Those are two areas where we have work to do, hopefully we can do it in a bipartisan way,” Sarlo said. “The third element for me is something that I think frustrates us all – overregulation.”
After Scott pressed Sarlo further on the unemployment insurance issue, the state senator reiterated plans to revisit the article, especially after the next round of post-sales revenue projections. vacation. When asked for a time frame, Sarlo estimated the first quarter of 2023.
The conversation then moved to government spending and the record-breaking fiscal year 2023 budget passed by Democrats in Trenton before moving on to the meteoric rise in rates for state health benefits – another issue. searing being felt across the state.
Scott asked if anything was being done in the Legislative Assembly, or with the Governor, to help mitigate the 22% or more increase in these benefit costs. “We’re going to have to find something to do,” DiMaio replied. “The reality is that we need to understand how we got here so we don’t repeat this in the future. And then we have to find a way to mitigate it.
Coughlin said there are ongoing conversations between the Legislative Assembly, the governor’s office and public employees.
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