George Norcross Company and partners won NJ tax credits for Camden office, years after task force review

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In the end, three years after enduring a torrent of scrutiny and pointed attacks from political opponents, Democratic power broker and businessman George E. Norcross III earned his credits. tax.

Conner Strong & Buckelew, the insurance brokerage firm that Norcross runs as executive chairman, along with its two business partners in a Camden office tower, received their first installment of tax relief in February for the planned nearly $245 million.

The tax credit disbursements, which were quietly noted on a government website, came after company prices were scrutinized by an investigative task force in 2019, fueling a heated political battle between Norcross and Democratic Governor Phil Murphy.

Camden businesses and officials have long argued that tax breaks for businesses moving to Camden are helping to create jobs and revitalize one of the poorest towns in the state.

Conner Strong, NFI and the Michaels Organization “are proud to have moved their national headquarters to Camden and to be part of the city’s transformation from the poorest and most violent city in the country to a place that has streets and dramatically safer, cleaner neighborhoods, steadily improving schools and a growing job base,” Norcross said in a statement. “The awarding of the tax incentives was expected as the companies far exceeded their commitment. collective to create new jobs in the city.”

Progressive groups have criticized the corporate incentive approach as costly and ineffective. Sue Altman, head of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and one of Norcross’s most vocal critics, called the prices “deeply disappointing.”

Insurance broker Conner Strong “has built an entire empire on the backs of rogue taxpayers,” she said. “They now eat the trough on both sides: when they charge insurance premiums to local governments and when they get a free pass to avoid paying taxes.”

Although the task force’s investigation received political and media attention in 2019, at this point there is “some distance politically,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. .

Murphy is up for election to a second term, he said, as is Norcross ally and former state Senate speaker Steve Sweeney, who lost in an upset last November. “I don’t think it’s the overriding political issue that it once was,” Rasmussen said of the tax credits. “It’s probably considered a safe time to get them through.”

The state granted significant approval to the three Camden Tower companies in 2021, certifying that they had completed the construction and relocation project agreed with the Economic Development Authority (EDA) in 2017.

But last year’s certification was still shy of getting the actual tax credits, which are granted in annual installments over 10 years. Businesses can use the credits to reduce their tax bills or sell the credits for cash.

The notice of tax credits issued was buried in a pair of Excel spreadsheets on the EDA’s website, in a section that appears to have been updated within the past three months.

The EDA’s approval of the first round of tax credits for Camden Tower seemed all but certain in 2019. That’s when a Murphy-appointed task force issued harsh criticism on how incentive programs were shaped and administered during the administration of Republican Chris Christie. . Investigators’ allegations ranged from unregistered lobbying and misleading statements submitted by companies to obtain tax credits, to lax regulatory oversight and a culture of “meeting” the EDA.

In particular, the task force focused on how companies in the Norcross orbit influenced and benefited from legislation that significantly expanded tax breaks in 2013. Law firm Parker McCay, led by Philip Norcross, a brother of George, drafted portions of the 2013 law behind the scenes, the task force found, before the company represented companies asking for tax breaks, including Conner Strong.

The task force said there were ‘clear red flags’ over demands by Conner Strong and Camden Tower partners that they would seek office space in Philadelphia if they did not get appropriations approval. tax to build offices in New Jersey. He referred the prices of the three companies to the EDA for further review.

The companies denied doing anything wrong, and Norcross and the companies sued the governor, arguing that Murphy created the task force illegally. They said they were falsely accused of misconduct after making a “huge investment” in Camden. The lawsuit was later dismissed and it failed on appeal.

On Thursday, an EDA spokesperson said the agency had to consider a recent legal loss over tax credits it withheld from another Camden company, Holtec International. “EDA has appealed this decision,” the spokesperson said. “After careful analysis of the judge’s opinion, the EDA decided to grant the tax credits to the companies whose awards had been suspended. The EDA has always reserved the right to reclaim all rewards in the event of new information regarding misrepresentation or fraud.

Norcross, in its statement, said the tower’s three companies, known as Triad1828 Center, and their leaders “have invested more than $300 million in the city’s future and are proud to have supported programs that benefit the community and its residents”. including the Camden Works scheme which “has led to the creation of hundreds of jobs for Camdenites”.

The EDA awarded Conner Strong $8,623,552 in tax credits for the 2020 portion of the company’s total $86.2 million award. The company, which previously had two headquarters in Philadelphia and Marlton, said it created 140 new jobs in Camden and retained 157 jobs, with a median salary of $79,000.

NFI, a logistics company, was approved for $7,866,221 in annual tax credits out of its total award of $78.7 million, and said it created 78 new jobs while retaining 341, at a salary median of $77,235.

The Michaels Organization, a real estate developer, received loans worth $7,555,853. The company reported 63 new jobs and 188 jobs retained in 2020, with a median salary of $134,997.

NFI and Michaels had no further comment.

Another Camden company examined by the task force, Cooper Health System, of which Norcross is chairman of the board, began receiving its tax credits again last year after its incentives were suspended. The decision to resume issuing the credits was based on “a thorough review of the applicable facts and the law,” an EDA spokesperson told The Inquirer at the time.

Then, in late 2021, the EDA lost the tax relief case it had won against Holtec, an energy technology company whose award of a $260 million tax credit for building a new facility in Camden was also cited by the task force.

In a section of its 2014 tax relief application dealing with the exclusion, Holtec said “no” and did not disclose that the company was excluded for 60 days in 2010 by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal entity. .

The EDA failed to pay Holtec’s 2018 tax credits while it investigated the case, and Holtec sued. During the legal fight, the EDA argued that Holtec’s response was intentionally false, and Holtec argued that its response was not a misrepresentation because that part of the request was ambiguous.

On December 30, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy ruled in favor of Holtec, agreeing that the exclusion section was ambiguous and ordering the EDA to pay the $26 million annual installment.

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