George Norcross, a powerful Democratic Party “boss” in southern New Jersey, who reportedly struck an important non-aggression pact with Christie, a Republican, during Christie’s re-election campaign, sits on the company’s board of directors.
Holtec had been threatening to move 160 workers from New Jersey to South Carolina. As part of the subsidy deal, it must now keep the staff in the state and open a new plant, which is slated to employ 235 more people, in Camden, New Jersey’s poorest city. It must commit to staying for 15 years.
The latest award follows a finding by the Guardian that Christie’s administration awarded a total of $1.25bn in subsidies in less than two years to firms that made significant donations to Republican election campaigns, or had senior executives who did. The NJEDA’s chief executive, Michele Brown, is a close friend and former aide of Christie’s.
Norcross, a wealthy businessman and former co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, is a former chairman of the Camden County Democratic Party and remains an influential party fundraiser who is frequently hailed as one of the most powerful people in New Jersey politics.
Although he is a Democrat, he maintains a good relationship with Christie. “There has never been a governor of either party who has worked harder or more diligently to help south Jersey, the city of Camden and many of the things we’re so proud of in this region, and governor, we applaud you for that,” Norcross said of Christie when introducing the governor at an event in March. “You are our friend and will be our friend. We wish you well.”
It has been reported by the New York Times, the New Yorker and others that Christie – who depends on working with the Democratic leaders of both chambers of the state legislature in order to see legislation passed – promised Norcross he would not campaign for Republican candidates in south Jersey during last year’s elections. While Christie won a landslide re-election, his party did not gain any seats in the legislature.
The newest subsidy award was criticised by state senators from both parties. “I’ve seen nothing to suggest that this subsidy program is helping our economy or producing jobs,” Loretta Weinberg, a senior Democrat, told the Guardian. “While we are giving all this money to corporations, working people are paying more."
“This is just another form of crony capitalism, and it needs to end,” Republican state senator Michael Doherty told the Newark Star-Ledger. “The more we do of this, the worse the economy gets in the state of New Jersey.”
A spokesman for Norcross said on Friday that Norcross would not benefit financially from the subsidy deal, and that he was not paid for his board position. Asked if he had been involved in the application for Holtec’s subsidy, the spokesman said: “George is actively and openly involved in trying to recruit jobs and development to Camden. He speaks to lots of companies, all the time, to try to get them to create jobs in Camden.”
Spokesmen for Christie did not respond to an email asking whether Norcross had discussed the firm’s application for a subsidy with the governor or anyone in his office. Joy Russell, a spokeswoman for Holtec, declined to answer the same question and said: “I’m not at liberty to discuss the award at this stage.”
Gordon MacInnes, the president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning thinktank that has been heavily critical of Christie’s program, urged state lawmakers to “rein in this reckless surge in business tax subsidies”.
“The latest blockbuster tax break deal approved today by New Jersey officials is part of a much larger, troubling trend,” MacInnes said in a statement. “Since 2010 the state has had a nearly singular focus on awarding tax subsidies to businesses in failed efforts to spur economic growth while virtually ignoring all of the vital public assets that are proven building blocks of a strong economy.”