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NJ Lawmakers Focusing On Jobs, Economy

Gov. Chris Christie addresses a town hall meeting in Washington Township (Gloucester County), NJ - Nov 15, 2010 - Photo: Tim Larsen / Governor's Office

Gov. Chris Christie (credit: Tim Larsen / Governor’s Office)

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers will soon focus their attention on legislation aimed at creating jobs and keeping businesses from leaving the state.

Budget committees in both the Senate and the Assembly will meet five times this month to discuss various measures. The first sessions are scheduled for Wednesday, followed by sessions Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 22.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver announced their “Back to Work NJ” legislation package last month, after Gov. Chris Christie again lambasted the Legislature for failing to approve key property tax stabilization measures that he proposed.

Many Republican lawmakers agreed with Christie, but Oliver and Sweeney say too little attention has been paid to the jobs issue while unemployment hovers above 9 percent. The two Democrats also note New Jersey has shed 42,000 public-sector jobs this year.

The package of roughly 30 bills includes measures to revise business tax codes, expand a business retention grant program and allow unemployed people to train with a potential new employer without jeopardizing their benefits. Another bill would create a loan forgiveness program for students who pursue jobs in fields with marked labor shortage.

The measures will likely be debated and voted on through January.

“We promised swift action to bring jobs and businesses back to New Jersey, and this timetable will prove to residents and the business community that we are serious about getting the job done,” Sweeney said. “In terms of job creation, 2010 has been a lost year in New Jersey. We are determined that 2011 will not be.”

Assembly Republican Budget Officer Joe Malone said the state should focus on “rebuilding trust” with the business community and becoming more business friendly. He said that could give businesses the confidence to come to New Jersey or remain in the state, which would spur economic growth and the creation of long-term private sector jobs.

“We have to reach out to business and get a long-term agreement with them, create stable rules so they know what they’re facing. There should also be an understanding that (the agreement) would not be brushed aside for a period of time due to political whims,” Malone said.

Oliver said economic growth was a vital step for curing New Jersey’s ills.

“Residents and businesses need to enter the new year with a renewed confidence in the state’s economy. This bill package and legislative game plan will provide that momentum,” she said.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak has said the Legislature can work on jobs bills while finishing work on the series of tax stabilization measures known collectively as a “tool kit.”

Several local officials have urged lawmakers to work on property tax reform, saying they will need help controlling their costs to stick to the 2 percent property tax cap that goes into effect Jan. 1.

Without cost controls from the Legislature and governor, municipal officials say, they’ll have to impose layoffs and cut services.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)