It goes without saying that 2020 was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all aspects of life for residents and businesses causing unprecedented challenges for the business community and state’s overall economic health. Despite the difficulties presented this year, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ) continued its steadfast advocacy in Trenton on behalf of our members.

On March 12, the CCSNJ testified on the original proposed FY2021 State Budget before the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee at Rowan University’s Rohrer College of Business. A mere four days later on March 16 Governor Phil Murphy announced extensive measures directing nearly all residents to stay home to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This included the mandatory closure of all physical retail businesses deemed to be nonessential. The state budget process also ground to a halt, with government taking an unprecedented step to extend the state’s fiscal year to September 30.
Shortly after the stay-at-home order was enacted, the CCSNJ sought crucial feedback from our members on the issue of how to best reopen the economy when it was safe to do so. As a result, more than 100 South Jersey business owners and CCSNJ members participated in the CCSNJ Economic Reopening and Recovery Working Group. After surveying Working Group members and holding upwards of 10 virtual meetings over a three week period, the CCSNJ issued the South Jersey Economic Reopening and Recovery Plan. This plan, which put forth a staggered, regional reopening approach that prioritized certain areas in South Jersey and low-risk industries for reopening as quickly and safely as possible, was submitted to Governor Murphy’s Administration, the South Jersey Congressional Delegation, the South Jersey Legislative Delegation and other key staff. However, despite the CCSNJ’s best efforts, the Governor was, and remains, extremely resistant to a geographic approach to opening and closing certain segments of the economy.
As the pandemic raged on, the CCSNJ remained engaged in the delayed state budget process, which included an enormous borrowing proposal deemed necessary by state government due to the pandemic’s impact on revenues. The CCSNJ testified before the Select Commission on Emergency COVID-19 Borrowing in strong opposition to the proposed issuance of $4.5 billion in General Obligation Bonds. In testimony before the Commission, the CCSNJ stated that the longstanding impact of such a sizable borrowing plan would only add to the state’s enormous debt leading to higher taxes on already overburdened residents and businesses. The issue was also taken to the New Jersey Supreme Court in a filing by New Jersey Republicans, who argued the borrowing plan to be unconstitutional. However, the plan was given the green light in a unanimous decision prior to Governor Murphy’s budget address on August 25. In its decision, the Court stated that government can only issue bonds or borrow funds due to the fiscal emergency caused by COVID-19 and not for other reasons.
After his court victory, Governor Murphy delivered the revised FY2021 budget address at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium. The $32.4 billion state budget proposal called for new taxes, as well as tax increases, $4 billion in borrowing, some spending cuts and direct federal cash assistance.
After abbreviated budget hearings that did not allow for public testimony, only written testimony from groups like the CCSNJ, Governor Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin announced that a deal had been reached. The final $32.7 billion FY2021 state budget included several tax increases and measures that will impact businesses long-term, all of which the CCSNJ opposed, including: a millionaire’s tax, which would increase the rate of taxation on incomes in excess of $1 million from the current rate of 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent; reversing the January 1 Corporation Business Tax (CBT) rate decline and extending the recent 2.5 percent CBT surtax though 2023; and an increase to the current annual assessment on net written premiums of HMOs from three percent to five percent.
The CCSNJ remains extremely disappointed by the final FY2021 state budget, which increases taxes at a time New Jersey residents and businesses can ill-afford it.
In the final weeks of the year, the Legislature kept extremely busy with several controversial pieces of legislation including the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act," which legalizes personal use of cannabis for certain adults. The CCSNJ opposed this measure because it does not go far enough to protect an employers’ ability to implement workplace safety provisions. Additionally, a deal was reached on the creation of new tax incentive programs to help attract and retain businesses in New Jersey. The CCSNJ proudly supported this measure, which contained several different programs to help a wide range of businesses, while assuring the geographic spend is fairly allocated to all regions of the state, including South Jersey. To read the CCSNJ testimony, click here.
Though this year brought new challenges, the CCSNJ continues to fight for our members best interests from supporting COVID-19 relief efforts to opposing costly labor mandates. Despite the challenges presented, the CCSNJ weighed in on over 200 bills this year alone, nearly double that of last year’s entire legislative session. Below is a full accounting of the bills the CCSNJ has engaged on this year, including their current status and a link to the CCSNJ’s full position statement, if applicable. The CCSNJ team looks forward to working tirelessly for our members in the New Year and, as always, welcomes your feedback, comments and suggestions on how we can better serve you in Trenton. 
In March, the Assembly and Senate swiftly passed the first package of bills to help businesses mitigate the economic uncertainty they faced early to COVID-19. Throughout the year, the Legislature continued to pass legislation as new challenges and needs arise from the pandemic’s impact. The CCSNJ has been pleased to see the Legislature’s continued focus on ensuring that businesses have the proper tools to mitigate the looming economic crisis, but was forced to oppose several measures that would place an undue burden on businesses, as well. 

COVID-19 Labor Mandates

Business Flexibility & Workforce Development

COVID-19 Impacts on Atlantic City 
The closure of the casinos, along with indoor dining restrictions, due to COVID-19 impacted Atlantic City and the surrounding region in unimaginable ways. On July 14, Governor Murphy and Lieutenant Governor Oliver presided over the first meeting of the Atlantic City Restart and Recovery Working Group, of which CCSNJ President & CEO Christina Renna was appointed as Vice Chair. The Group, comprised of members of the existing Atlantic City Executive Council and other regional stakeholders, is examining the post-COVID-19 recovery of Atlantic City, including continued efforts for citywide economic diversification, workforce development, and improved public health. Its report is due in early 2021. 

Non-COVID-19 Legislation
Labor Mandates
The CCSNJ was disappointed that new and costly labor mandates were introduced and passed in 2020 at a time when businesses could least afford it. One of the first major issues facing business was the “New Jersey Fair Workweek Act” that Senator Loretta Weinberg introduced in January. The CCSNJ joined a coalition of various business groups to oppose this legislation, which would remove an employer’s ability to create a staffing schedule that fits their business’s needs. The CCSNJ also prepared to continue its opposition to S-863 (Sweeney), which attempts to classify independent contractors as employees. The legislation, which was hotly debated in 2019, was reintroduced in the Senate in the same form as was last released from committee during the lame duck session. The pandemic stopped both bill’s momentum, but the CCSNJ will continue to remain vigilant on these important issues in the new year.

Economic Growth & Workforce Development Issues
Among the new issues the Legislature was presented with this year was creating the regulatory framework for the new cannabis industry after voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize recreational adult use marijuana. The CCSNJ opposed the bill for several reasons including insufficient workplace safety language and concerns around protections for a drug-free workplace. Despite these concerns, the Legislature passed this measure on December 17. However, the Legislature made positive movements in the workforce development arena, specifically in the area of apprenticeship programs, which the CCSNJ was proud to support.

Transportation Issues
Despite the challenges the pandemic presented to the transportation sector, the state continued to look forward to improving its transportation infrastructure. The CCSNJ provided comments on the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) Capital Improvement Program in April. The improvements included in the program will greatly benefit the entire South Jersey region and spur economic growth at a time when the region needs it the most. However, the CCSNJ expressed grave concerns with the toll increase on the Atlantic City Expressway imploring the Authority to find new and creative revenue streams instead. The Capital Program passed, as did the toll increase despite the CCSNJ’s concerns with that specific portion of the Program.

This October, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) held public hearings on the Glassboro-Camden Line (GCL), which is the next step in the decades-long journey to establish a rail line that runs to and from these beacons of economic development for the region. The CCSNJ proudly participated in support of the GCL and will continue to champion this overdue and much needed project for the region.

Environment & Energy Issues
Despite the pandemic, the Murphy Administration continued its commitment of working towards a clean energy future. The Governor unveiled the New Jersey Energy Master Plan (EMP) on January 28, which provides the roadmap to achieving the Governor’s ambitious goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The CCSNJ weighed in on the plan with comments shortly thereafter.

Another significant environmental action this year is the new Environmental Justice law, which the CCSNJ opposed. Although the CCSNJ supports its concept, as well as its intended goal, the new law is overly broad and will likely have an unintended consequence of making target communities less attractive for future economic growth, disproportionally impact New Jersey-based manufacturers and serve as a disincentive to expand facilities or attract out-of-state manufacturers to urban communities where the job growth is needed most. The CCSNJ remains extremely active in the rulemaking process for the new environmental justice law, providing comments, and will keep members updated as new developments occur.

Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives
One of the CCSNJ’s six core values includes fostering an inclusive community that embraces the diversity of the companies, organizations and individuals we serve. All businesses are working to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic and as the economy restarts, it is more important than ever to ensure that minority and women-owned businesses are part of that economic recovery as well. Additionally, the Legislature took up several important non-COVID initiatives in this space that dealt directly with the state’s Chief Diversity Officer, who is overseeing New Jersey’s Disparity Study, and new supplier diversity measures that the CCSNJ was proud to support. 

The healthcare industry proved itself incredibly resilient this year and we applaud the hard work of the frontline healthcare workers. 

Affordability Issues and Other Odds & Ends
The CCSNJ weighed on several bills impacting the State’s budget. Over the years, the CCSNJ urged state government to reduce expenses and make necessary changes that will provide real and lasting savings for property taxpayers. We were proud to support bills in Senator Sweeney’s "Path to Progress" package that attempt to do just that, such as S-1 (Sweeney): Encourages sharing of services; makes appropriations.

As always, your feedback is important to us.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions please contact Hilary Chebra, Manager, Government Affairs, at or by clicking here.