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On election day, to the surprise of many in Trenton, the $450-million stem-cell ballot question was soundly defeated, even though it had been widely predicted that the initiative would pass easily. We asked real estate professionals why they thought the question was defeated. Nearly half (47%) attributed it to fiscal concerns by voters. Slightly more than a third of respondents (37%) believed the voters saw it as a moral issue. A few (16%) believed the defeat was a repudiation of Governor Corzine. Commentator Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis’ life sciences group, believes a combination of several factors lead to the upset. He discusses his thoughts below:

“I think there’re several parts to the answer. First, a lack of understanding of how the $450 million was derived. A lot of the voters saw the gross amount and didn’t realize that that would be over the course of time, a 10-year timeframe. That was not explained very well at all. It would have been better to say that the tax impact for the voters would have been minimized because it would have been spread out over time.

“Second, the $450 million included projects that were based in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden. It would have been better on this particular ballot question to have it focused on one area. New Brunswick is the acknowledged leader as far as New Jersey goes right now, as far as the cluster that’s there and the core of R&D. Concentrating only on New Brunswick probably would have brought the ballot question down to $150 to $200 million. It ended up being too much money because there were too many geographic areas that were being included.

“Third, of course, is the social, moral and religious impact. The opposition was organized, the advocates weren’t, and in politics you can’t play catch up against a determined opposition like that. Those are the three main reasons I saw that led to the defeat of the ballot question.

“The project in New Brunswick will go forward. They had a ground-breaking, and they’ll find funding. Exactly how, whether it’s public or private partnerships, a smaller future ballot question, a legislative issue, I don’t know, but it’ll move ahead.

“There’s one other aspect that’s real estate-related and related as well to the state’s economy that the voters don’t understand. That’s the spinoff effect of having a globally successful and globally recognized stem-cell industry here in New Jersey. There would be an effect, but it’s hard to quantify. There would be job creation, future tax revenue from a more diversified economy and successful companies that hire tech people and R&D people and also take space in real estate. So, if you’re taking a couple thousand sf as part of a government-sponsored stem-cell program, that’ll probably lead to a spinoff of two to three that in private real estate deals that would help the state.”

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