Following months of unacceptable delays, New Jersey Working Families State Director Sue Altman sued the New Jersey Economic Development Agency to get access to public records at the heart of the unfolding scandal over state tax incentives.
The lawsuit, filed in Mercer County Superior Court yesterday, seeks immediate access to communications between EDA staff members and Parker McCay, the politically connected law firm run by Philip Norcross, and his lobbying firm, Optimus Partners.
Norcross’ firm was intimately involved in drafting the law, which was sponsored by his brother, then state-Sen. George Norcross. More than $1 billion of tax breaks have been awarded to companies connected to Philip Norcross and his brother, George, the insurance broker who controls the South Jersey Democratic machine. And many tax break applicants have been represented by Parker McCay.
“The public has a right to know how Phil Norcross and his law firm influenced the implementation of a law that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” said Altman. “This law was drafted in secret to benefit powerful political power brokers. The best way to get to ensure the state government can never again be used as the personal piggy bank of the politically connected is to bring these backroom deals to the light.”
Altman filed the lawsuit after submitting a request in July for the documents under the state’s Open Public Records Act. She has since faced unacceptable delays from the EDA, which has consistently refused to live up to legal requirements for public access and transparency.
In fact, EDA staff has admitted that it was allowing third parties – presumably Parker McCay and Optimus Partners – to conduct a review of requested documents before releasing them. The EDA seemingly put no deadline on this expansive review.
The delays are even more intolerable because the program is at the center of an investigation by an independent task force commissioned by Governor Murphy and, according to media reports, has attracted attention from federal investigators and a state grand jury.
“The fact that EDA staff would let Phil Norcross’ law and lobbying firms review documents before releasing them to the public shows how out of control this agency has become – and just how much it is dedicated to serving the interests of a powerful political machine instead of the people of New Jersey,” Altman said. “The EDA needs to immediately release these documents so the public can understand how Phil Norcross and his companies steered taxpayer money to benefit clients and friends.”
A copy of the complaint is attached.Verified Complaint and initial filing