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Read any local publication on any given day and you will undoubtedly see stories about the severity of New Jersey’s economic woes. These include historic budget deficits, a decaying infrastructure, significant erosion of the state’s job base, stagnant commercial and industrial real estatemarkets, housing crises and so on. As a result, you will also see any number of proposed solutions coming from Trenton, which include increased tolls, new tolls, privatization, shutting down state parks, cuttingservices and layoffs.

To illustrate the dire straits our state is facing, one need look no further than the outstanding analysis by New Jersey’s leading economists, James Hughes, dean of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Joseph Seneca, a university professor atRutgers University. Their most recent report states that New Jersey fell significantly behind other tri-state area states in job growth for 2007.

New York’s rate of private-sector employment growth was twelve times that of New Jersey’s (1.2%) and Pennsylvania’s was six times higher (0.6%). Additionally, in terms of absolute growth in private-sector employment, New York’s 2007 gain was more than 23 times higher than that ofNew Jersey (85,700 jobs), while Pennsylvania’s gain was over seven times higher (28,100 jobs).

So with all of this doom and gloom it is no wonder that people have given up hope and that many are leaving the state. Every day I witness more people and companies leaving our state, tired of the taxes, congestion andlack of employment opportunities. However, there is a solution to fixing this structurally based long-term economic paralysis and it is quite simple–jobs! If New Jersey can once again become a job creation machine,all of these problems go away. Sounds simple, right? Actually, it is—and there are several very easy and painless steps that our elected leaders can take to completely change the economic climate in New Jersey. If we are once again creating jobs, tax revenues increase, property taxes ease, infrastructure improvements can be funded and the housing ills cured.

It will take some courage, which seems to be lacking these days throughout Trenton, but below are six steps that will immediately change the equation.

First, let’s follow the lead of many other states, including Massachusetts, and privatize many of the permits issued by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the New Jersey Department ofTransportation (NJDOT) as well as minor building permits, such as those for office renovations. The state should license professionals in these areas and allow them to deal with minor permits, such as permits for the removal of a fuel oil tank from a home, permits for voluntary cleanups that do not create a serious hazard to public health and non-structural building permits that do not require site plan approval. The state agencies and building code officials should deal with Superfund sites, major buildingpermits involving structural issues, site plan reviews and other important issues. This would save money and increase the state’s reputation for efficiency. It is ridiculous that it can take six weeks or more in some communities to get a permit to change the non-bearing walls in an office suite.

Secondly, let’s create review boards where disputes over decisions by the NJDEP, NJDOT and local and state land use agencies can be quickly resolved instead of the current lengthy procedure in the courts. Other states havesuch review boards, populated by specialists, and the results have been excellent.

Thirdly, let’s not drive our seniors to states like Florida, the Carolinas and Arizona because of inheritance taxes. This tax is counterproductive. Wealthy people in New Jersey establish residency in other states once theyare 60 or so and never pay the tax. We also need to give them a break on their income tax by allowing a percentage of their real estate taxes based on their income to be a credit against their state income tax. If we do this, we will not miss out on their income taxes, charitable contributions and volunteer efforts. With people living longer and longer, it is my guess that these taxes will more than offset the inheritance taxes that are actually paid. Why not make New Jersey, with its wealth of cultural, recreational and intellectual assets, the place to retire in the Middle-Atlantic states?

Fourthly, let’s create standard templates, applications and regulations for zoning codes, planning boards and boards of adjustment so applicants do not have to deal with 570 or more different sets of procedures. Let’s also require them to meet as frequently as required so that an applicant gets a timely decision.

Fifthly, let’s eliminate or modify the so-called “but for” conditions of many of our economic incentives that require applicants to get competing proposals from developers in states outside of New Jersey. Recently, a company that intended to stay in New Jersey was told it had to do this to get a grant, and when it found out how much money it could save by leaving the state, the firm changed its mind and is now leaving.

Sixth, let’s rethink the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH.) The latest round of COAH regulations is absurd. The more jobs you create in New Jersey, the more affordable housing you have to pay for. Does this make any sense? Don’t we want to encourage people who create more and more jobs to move here? In some communities, the new company may have to pay as much as $180,000 for every 16 jobs it creates and even build the housing on its office or industrial campus. Who makes up these rules?

Finally, let’s learn from Mayor Bloomberg and establish a 311 number for companies with problems and create a real ombudsman independent of the bureaucracy in Trenton to help people caught in our bureaucratic morass.

There are dozens of other common sense solutions that will not cost money and often save money. So, why don’t we do something? The answer is simple. We march to the beat of the slowest drummer. A small group of vocal people at any town meeting can stop almost anything. Everyone is so concerned about being re-elected that no one will lead. They prefer all decisions to be made by judges so no one can blame them. It is very sad.

We need to start talking about solutions and not justdescribing the problems. I have lived in New Jersey my whole life and unfortunately I have never seen such pessimism concerning the direction we are heading in. We are losing companies to Pennsylvania and other states,our children are moving out and so are our parents. Unlesswe take some important steps, I am afraid the future of our state will continue to deteriorate. The good news, however, is that the solutions are right in front of us, will require little or no sacrifice from our residents and can make an immediate impact. The real questions are “Isanyone listening? Will somebody please lead the band?”

David Houston is president of Colliers Houston & Co. in Teaneck.

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