Democratic powerbroker George Norcross defends tax breaks; critic removed from hearing
It was a chaotic scene in Trenton Monday afternoon as one of the state’s most powerful unelected people made a rare public appearance.
George Norcross is a South Jersey Democratic powerbroker and insurance and hospital executive. He testified before an oversight committee at the State House about state Economic Development Authority tax incentives.
Norcross defended the use by his company and others of over $1 billion in state tax breaks intended to bring jobs to the struggling city of Camden.
“We moved so many people from Philadelphia to Camden,” Norcross said. “The facts in Camden speak for themselves. Unemployment rate, crime rate at a 50-year low. Schools, graduation rates, things are getting better.”
But before Norcross spoke, Democratic state Sen. Bob Smith directed state troopers to remove those disrupting the hearing with boos and jeers. Sue Altman, director of New Jersey Working Families, was dragged out of the hearing over protests from allies.
Altman had previously helped organize protests against Norcross.
“This is a physical visceral representation of the way power manifests itself in Camden County,” Altman said after she was removed from the meeting.
A task force appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy is investigating whether Norcross gamed the system to get tax breaks for companies with which he had a connection. He said that the task force “has made a series of selective, misleading and often outright incorrect statements.”
Norcross has been in power for over 25 years. He has bragged about forcing governors to follow his lead. He is most likely responsible for electing any representative south of Interstate 195 and west of Toms River. But Norcross has also sunk millions into improving Camden's schools and public safety.
“If there's any place in the state of New Jersey, maybe even our country that tax incentives have worked - it was to take America's poorest and most dangerous city and begin a process of turning it around, that President [Barack] Obama came and applauded,” he said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in September that the FBI is investigating some of the tax incentive awards, including those in Camden.
The governor said that Altman's removal was "completely outrageous and unacceptable." The Attorney General’s Office says that it will speak with Sen. Smith about his decision to have the protesters removed.
The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.