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Norcross to appeal dismissal of lawsuit against Murphy

August 6, 2019
In this Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, New Jersey businessman and co-owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, George Norcross walks through City Hall in Philadelphia. Norcross is planning to file an appeal after a judge dismissed a lawsuit by Norcross against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy claiming that a task force set up by the governor to investigate the Economic Development Authority was an illegal exercise and politically motivated. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
In this Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, New Jersey businessman and co-owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, George Norcross walks through City Hall in Philadelphia. Norcross is planning to file an appeal after a judge dismissed a lawsuit by Norcross against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy claiming that a task force set up by the governor to investigate the Economic Development Authority was an illegal exercise and politically motivated. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — An influential political powerbroker told a New Jersey court this week that he is appealing a judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit over Gov. Phil Murphy’s business tax credit task force.

George Norcross and the firms that sued Murphy filed an appeal notice Monday, just days after Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson tossed out Norcross’ suit.

The fight is over Murphy’s appointment this year of a task force to investigate the now-expired business tax credit programs that approved $8 billion in awards over Republican Chris Christie’s two terms. Lawmakers and Christie singled out Camden, where Norcross is from, because of its crushing poverty and high crime rates.

Norcross’ suit initially asked the court to halt the task force’s investigation and later asked that the court for the right to cross examine people in the proceedings.

It’s the latest development in the fight between Norcross, a southern New Jersey Democratic fundraiser and business executive, and Murphy.

Spokesmen for the governor and Norcross declined to comment on the appeal.

Even before the task force was established, a 2017 auditor report and a comptroller probe this year raised questions over how the Economic Development Authority was running the tax incentive programs. The comptroller found, for example, that there wasn’t a process in place to determine that businesses getting awards were meeting certain requirements.

In a meeting in May, Murphy’s task force focused on firms tied to Norcross, who is executive chairman of insurance brokerage Conner Strong & Buckelew and chairman of Cooper University Health in Camden.

One of the requirements for a firm to get tax credits was the threat of a firm leaving the state, though it’s unclear if that was the case for firms considering a move to Camden.

At the May meeting, the task force showed emails from officials at the hospital system, for instance, showing that it never intended to leave New Jersey despite the official award document showing jobs were at risk of leaving the state.

After that hearing, Norcross, Cooper, Conner Strong and other firms linked to him sued Murphy and sought to stop the release of the task force’s report. Jacobson disagreed and let the report come out.

The findings showed that special interests, particularly those tied to Norcross, had a hand in writing the tax incentive law. The report said changes to the draft law made by Norcross’ brother and another partner were intended to help Conner Strong, among other firms, and that the size of Conner Strong’s 2017 award hinged on their role in writing the bill.

Norcross decried the report as inaccurate and misleading.

After the report came out, Murphy sought to dismiss Norcross’ lawsuit and Jacobs agreed, saying the governor was within his legal rights to investigate the agency overseeing the tax credits.

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