New Jersey is in the process of changing its reputation as an unfriendly place for businesses to do business, Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday.
"New Jersey has made it as difficult as possible over the last decade to be a business owner and operator in this state," Christie said. "Just about every level you can think of, from expense to regulation to just attitude, New Jersey state government over the last decade has been the enemy of economic growth."
Christie said efforts made since he took office in January have started a reversal. "I think we are moving in the right direction," said Christie, nearing the end of his first year in office.
Christie addressed a friendly crowd of about 250 of the state's top bank executives attending the biennial 2010 Commissioner's Symposium sponsored by the state Department of Banking and Insurance.
The daylong event, which focused on top banking issues such as mergers and acquisitions, the effects of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the economy, was held at Battleground Country Club in Manalapan.
Christie said that before he took office, $70 billion in wealth left New Jersey for states such as Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
"When that degree of wealth leaves your state, even in an extraordinarily wealthy state like New Jersey, the effect is devastating to our private-sector job base," he said. "Unfortunately, it's going to take us, I suspect, longer than four years to get that $70 billion back."
Now the state is on the path to reform and economic growth, he said. "Reform really has to come first before we can ask all of you and others similarly situated to invest and believe in us and grow or start your businesses."
Among the changes:
Cutting regulations and red tape for businesses. "We are eliminating scores of regulations and rethinking others to make them more business friendly," Christie said. "New Jersey is regulation crazy." A group, which includes business leaders, now reviews proposed regulations.
The end of the corporate business tax surcharge, a 4 percent charge that had been renewed annually since 2006.
Proposals for public employee pension reform, including rolling back a 9 percent increase in pensions granted in 2001, increasing employee pension contributions and increasing the retirement age.
A 2 percent cap on property tax increases.
The state has risen to 48th in business tax climate from 50th, Christie said.
"I am not taking an ad out in The Wall Street Journal saying "Hey, look at us; we're No. 48,' but it shows you what can happen in just 10 months of working to improve the business tax climate in the state that we have now moved past California and New York," Christie said. "We are building toward becoming once again a middle-of-the-pack state on business tax climate."
Once that happens, "our economy will soar," he said.