Possible changes to State Urban Enterprise Zones may affect New Brunswick

By Nicole Gifford

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced on Monday, Nov. 10 that he will propose a bill that would reinstate the provision of a portion of sales tax revenues to New Jersey cities with Urban Enterprise Zones, including New Brunswick.

More than a dozen Democratic urban mayors from around the state joined Prieto (D-Hudson) in North Bergen when he spoke about his goal of reversing changes to Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) policy that Governor Chris Christie’s administration put into practice four years ago.

According to Prieto, the funding that would be redistributed to municipalities under his new bill amounts to approximately $27 million per year.

The Urban Enterprise Zone project began in 1983 to revitalize New Jersey cities that were struggling economically. Sales taxes in selected cities were capped at 3.5 percent, and taxes collected in the zones were split between the state and the cities.

In New Brunswick, UEZ funds have been used to improve Monument Square Park and to finance “Clean Team” maintenance workers to address graffiti and litter throughout the city.

The 6,800 businesses in 32 active zones that currently participate in the program also receive workforce training assistance and tax breaks from the state.

Since the release of a 2011 report by the Christie administration that questioned the effectiveness of the UEZ program’s contributions to cities, the state has collected nearly $100 million annually from the zones to contribute to its own budget.

Prior to Christie’s reforms, New Brunswick received between $900,000 and $1.2 million in UEZ money every year.

Urban mayors claim that the money would be better used – as it was originally intended – if it went directly toward job creation, public safety, infrastructure, and other local needs within their cities.

Under the proposed bill, the city of Paterson, for example, would receive more than $2 million annually in additional revenue.

Paterson mayor Joey Torres, who was among Prieto’s supporters at press conference, said that the increase in UEZ funding would only expand the number of positive changes he has been able to enact with money from the program in the past.

“UEZ funds afforded me the possibility of remediating brownfield sites as well as bringing big box national chains to the city,” Torres said.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) has been involved in UEZ reform in the southern portion of the state and also proposed legislation that would add Atlantic City to the project.

Mazzeo believes that inclusion in the project will be a boon to the seaside resort’s economy, where four of 12 casinos have closed in the past year due to financial hardship.