TRENTON-Now that Republican Chris Christie has beaten incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine for the governor’s seat in New Jersey, the commercial real estate industry in the state is awaiting his policy initiatives. With some 99% of precincts reporting, Christie took 49% of the vote, compared to 44.5% for Corzine and 5.7% for independent challenger Chris Daggett. Voter turnout was reportedly a record low for a governor’s race in the state.

Commercial real estate executives in the state are hopeful that Governor-elect Christie will continue the work aimed at fostering economic development that began under Corzine when he signed the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009 into law in July.

“Being a high-cost border state, New Jersey needs to be relentless in demonstrating its commitment to economic development,” says Michael McGuiness, CEO of the New Jersey chapter of Naiop. “This will be a protracted recovery, so we hope that the new governor will recognize this positive momentum and support additional legislation designed to improve our business climate.”

McGuiness also urged the incoming governor to reconsider his opposition to an increase in the gas tax to fund transportation infrastructure improvements. “Failing to address our transportation needs is simply not an option if we are to maintain our existing job base and attract new jobs and boost the logistics industry that is so critical to our economy,” he says. Reducing the cost of running government is priority, as well, McGuiness says.

David T. Houston, Jr., president of Colliers Houston & Co. in Teaneck, contends that although Democrats control the state house, the Republican Christie has the skills to deal with legislators. “Despite the fact that the governor of New Jersey has enormous powers, and is one of the most powerful governors constitutionally, it’s really the legislature that sets the tone,” Houston says. “The difference between the two is that Christie can work better with the legislature because he is used to working in a more team-oriented environment. I’ve been shocked at how little enthusiasm there was on the part of a lot of very senior Democrats in the legislature for [Corzine's] re-election. In fact, one senator told me ‘I’d just assume the Republican won, at least I can talk to somebody.’” He declined to name that individual.

Houston is also a member of the New Jersey Smart Growth Economic Development Coalition. He expects the coalition will continue to get its proposals through the legislature. “I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in hell of any of the Smart Growth bills being eradicated,” Houston says. “We’ve got a bunch of other bills that will be passed because Sen. [Ray] Lesniak has been our champion. As long as Ray Lesniak supports it, and we have the republicans’ votes as well, we’ll get more stuff done. It will be easier with Christie, but we’ve got so much support. If you look at the margins these bills have been passed by, they’ve had terrific bipartisan support.”

The biggest problem the state and the next governor face, Houston says, are New Jersey’s high property taxes. “The taxes in this state are driving people and businesses away,” he says. “The only way to solve the problem is not to raise the taxes, it’s to cut the spending.”

When asked about his reaction, Michael Fasano, vice president of Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services and regional manager of the Elmwood Park office, cites Chris Christie’s track record as a US attorney, where he convicted on over 130 cases. “When Christie gets involved in something, he is successful,” says Fasano. If Christie can follow through on his promise to deal with the property tax issue, cut regulation and control government spending, the new governor’s actions “will benefit New Jersey business, and as a result commercial real estate.”

Clearly, the voting public was calling for a change, which didn’t surprise Fasano. “If you spoke to people at RealShare New Jersey over the past few years, even when the market was white hot, there was a pretty strong consensus that we were not doing enough to create jobs here or to retain people.”

However, Fasano does give credit to Jerry Zaro, chief of the Office of Economic Growth. “Let’s hope that Christie and his team can latch on to some momentum here and capture resources that we need to create jobs,” he relates. “Because in spite of the fact that there are some positive signs, until we start to see people put back to work, there is going to be a cloud over the state.”

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