The second wave of the pandemic continues with thousands of New Jersey residents testing positive for the virus every day but legislative leaders are already discussing plans to get the state economy moving once the pandemic under control.

During a New Jersey Business and Industry Association online public policy forum, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. R-Union, and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, talked steps that need to be considered.

With regard to offering tax incentives to businesses, Coughlin pointed out “we’re talking about projects that are years down the road” so trying to develop some sense of what the new reality will be is important.

“Commercial real estate may be different two years from now than it is today because employers have come to understand that employees can work from home and be very effective," he said.

Bramnick said tax incentive programs are easy to criticize in part because making them 100% fair can be challenging.

“But the business community looks all over the nation — where am I going to relocate? Give them a reason to come here. They’re not coming here because our business environment is great," he said. “That’s why we need tax incentives more than most other states, so consequently we have to do that quickly. It does not have to be perfect.”

Sweeney said if the coronavirus vaccines are effective, the state could return to some level of normalcy by next summer.

"We’re going to need to do a lot of infrastructure (work) to get things moving. We need to create jobs,” he said, noting a legislative jobs creation package is in the works.

Bramnick agreed but also stressed the importance of holding the line on new taxes and spending.

Kean pointed out New Jersey has a history of “tax unpredictability”, and that has also hurt the state’s ability to attract new companies.

The lawmakers all agreed more federal stimulus money is needed but Bramnick said the state should also hold hearings to give small business owners an opportunity to talk about their challenges and what they need to survive.

“It may light a fire under us or the governor’s office in terms of reacting quickly,” he said.

He also suggested for businesses that are in dire straits, “we need to have a package of bills that waives taxes that are owed by these businesses in crisis.”

Sweeney said even when the COVID crisis starts improving, we may not see jobs that were lost during the pandemic come back quickly.

“I want to train people for the jobs that are there, or for the jobs that are to come,” he said.

Kean agreed, noting “we need to be aggressive in the training programs to understand what is going to be the current needs of employees and the local employers, and we also need to focus on the next stage.”

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