TRENTON – Senator Barbara Buono today said the State should tap into more than $100 million currently stockpiled in a State fund to assist urban enterprise zones and use the money for budget-related property tax relief.
“That money should be put to use now to help taxpayers while the State’s UEZ program is overhauled, restructured and made accountable,” said Senator Buono, a member of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.
During budget hearings earlier this month for the Commerce, Economic Growth & Tourism Commission, Senator Buono said she became incensed at what she termed “the continued lack of oversight and accountability” for funding the UEZ program which provides tax breaks and other incentives for business development in sections of New Jersey urban areas.
“I’ve been told by the Office of Legislative Services that the Commerce Commission says the UEZ assistance fund has at least $106.7 million available,” Senator Buono said. “I am also told that the total could be a lot higher.”
Senator Buono said she will introduce legislation early next month to codify the recommendations of the Office of State Auditor to overhaul the UEZ program by installing oversight procedures, a code of ethics and project reporting requirements to track all expenditures.
“In good conscience, the UEZ assistance fund should either be frozen or used to provide tax relief while the reforms of the program are put in place,” Senator Buono said. “In this fiscal climate, I strongly urge that the funds be designated for property tax relief.”
Senator Buono said lax fiscal controls on the UEZ program, cited in two consecutive reports by the State Auditor, apparently continue to plague its operations. She noted that the Commerce Commission projected a fund balance of nearly $259 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 when the Corzine Administration assembled its initial budget document.
“Now OLS is told the fund is at $106.7 million, but it hasn’t been made clear how it got to that point – and that’s part of the problem in accountability,” Senator Buono said.
The UEZ fund will be replenished rapidly through designated tax receipts, but there is no need to let the funds stagnate, Senator Buono said.
“When there’s well over a hundred million dollars sitting in a fund of a program that needs to be reformed, I don’t think we can afford not to put that money to work for the people of New Jersey,” Senator Buono said. “I’m all for providing incentives for revitalizing our urban centers, but now is the right time to make sure we’re getting there in the most responsible way possible. We’ve had a UEZ program since 1983 and there have been some successes, but it also has generated enough questions to merit a crackdown on the side of scrutiny and accountability.”