On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed legislation that would have allowed the state to measure the effectiveness of the billions in corporate tax incentives it regularly hands out.
It’s disappointing, given the fact that there is little or no evidence these incentives actually work.The argument has always been that lowering the corporate tax rate will grow the economy. But a 2012 study by the Economic Policy Institute found there is no indication that there is any relationship between the tax rate and economic growth.And, at about 6.5 percent, New Jersey still has one of the worst unemployment rates in the country.The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, would have required the state to describe the specific goals and objectives of any tax expenditure, including corporate tax breaks.It would have provided taxpayers with detailed information, including what companies received awards and how many jobs would be created.Similar legislation from 2007 was supposed to ensure such reporting, but according to New Jersey Police Perspective, the state Treasury Department never released any reports.Instead of providing greater accountability for this huge taxpayer-funded incentive program — this administration has awarded about $5 billion in corporate tax subsidies since 2010 — Christie wants to expand it.On Tuesday, he announced a plan that would include double-digit cuts to the federal corporate tax rate.Maybe he knows something we don’t.What we know is that these incentives haven’t worked out well for Burlington County. Dietz & Watson was able to pull up stakes in Delanco after accepting a more lucrative offer from the City of Philadelphia, and Holtec International is leaving Evesham for Camden thanks to a corporate tax break. In fact, corporate executives have publicly acknowledged holding out for the best offer from among multiple states and municipalities. Who could blame them?The subsidies help only about 1 percent of New Jersey’s companies, and the NJPP found that most of the investment decisions would have been made anyway — without the incentives.So a few companies benefit, but what’s in it for New Jersey residents? Not much.As we see it, there are 5 billion reasons why the state should be quantifying the effectiveness of these expenditures. The parameters of the bill may be too narrow, as the governor said, but there has to be some accountability. Residents ought to be able to measure the effectiveness of something they’re paying for. Fortunately, the conditional status of the veto and the introduction of a similar bill that includes a moratorium on these tax breaks, S-2879, leave room for Christie and the legislators to get this right.