Editor: Please give our readers an introduction to the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). Tell us about your mission and membership.
Kirschner: With 21,000 member companies, NJBIA is the nation’s largest state-level business association. We represent companies of every size in every industry across the state. Most of the state’s large companies and their corporate counsels are members, as are most of the state’s largest law firms.
We were founded in 1910 by a group of manufacturers who wished to present a unified voice on state laws and regulations affecting their businesses. That’s still a very important part of our mission, namely to be an advocate for business before the legislative and executive branches of state government. We are in fact the largest and most respected voice for business in New Jersey.
Our Association works hard for the passage of laws and regulations that will benefit New Jersey businesses so they can expand, create jobs and be successful. We also work to stop laws that would hurt the state’s employers and stand in the way of their success. The bottom line is that we work very hard to improve New Jersey’s business climate.
Another very important part of NJBIA’s mission is to be of service to our member companies. We provide them with timely and practical information on laws, regulations and business trends. Our members tell us we are a very valuable information resource that they depend on.
For example, through regular communications with our members, the NJBIA website, and our seminars we provide members with the best and most current information on how best to deal with – and develop strategies to comply with – laws and regulations affecting their businesses in areas like environmental regulations, taxes, energy and healthcare. When members call us with a question or problem, we give them the help they need.
Editor: What are the core issues within your advocacy efforts?
Kirschner: We advocate for sensible policies that will lower business costs and provide the best business climate possible for growth. We have successfully advocated for lower taxes, fewer and more sensible regulations, and stopping workplace mandates that would expose employers to greater legal liabilities or remove the flexibility they need to effectively manage their workforces.
Let me give you an example: We are currently fighting a bill which, as originally written, would “ban the box” on job applications. Currently, some companies ask applicants to check a box if they have been convicted of a crime. The bill, however, goes far beyond banning the box. It would prevent an employer from even asking applicants if they had been convicted of a crime until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Then an employer would have to explain in writing why the offer was rescinded. This is a terrible waste of time, especially for certain employers who are bound by federal and other state laws not to hire anyone with a criminal conviction. This would potentially expose employers to tremendous liability. We have been working to have this bill rewritten.
Editor: Let’s focus a little more on the regulatory aspects. Does NJBIA focus on issues of specific interest to New Jersey’s large corporations?
Kirschner: In our regulatory reform efforts, we focus on regulations that would affect all businesses, no matter what their size. However, certain regulations have a bigger impact on large companies.
Let me give you two examples: NJBIA successfully supported the passage of a “waiver rule” that gives the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) more flexibility in administering the state’s enormously complex and often conflicting regulations. The rule is part of Governor Chris Christie’s common sense regulatory reform initiative. It allows the DEP to waive strict compliance with a particular regulation on a case-by-case basis if it determines that the rule conflicts with other rules, if strict compliance creates an “undue burden,” if use of the rule creates a net environmental benefit or if a public emergency exists.
In another example, the DEP required owners of tidal waterfront properties – even industrial facilities – to provide public access to those properties. The new rule affected hundreds of large business properties completely unsuited to swimming, fishing or any kind of recreational activity. NJBIA successfully had this rule rejected in 2011.
Editor: What progress have you made on the tax front?
Kirschner: We have made some very good progress on this front. Over the past several years, the state has lowered many business taxes and enacted a number of significant business-tax incentives designed to encourage large companies to move here or stay here.
One major reform, the “singles sales factor,” eliminated a part of the corporate business tax (CBT) that actually gave an unfair tax advantage to multi-state companies that sell in New Jersey but don’t have facilities or employ many workers here. The old CBT formula was based on a company’s in-state sales but also on their New Jersey payroll and property, with the result that in-state companies paid more taxes than out-of-state companies with comparable sales. The new formula, which is still being phased in, bases the tax solely on a company’s New Jersey sales.
This and many other business-tax-reform initiatives have cut the state’s business tax burden by $543 million over the past three years.
On the broader tax front, we have successfully opposed efforts to raise personal income-tax rates in New Jersey and we supported the governor’s two percent cap on local property-tax increases. We also supported public-employee, pension-and-health-benefit reforms to rein in ballooning costs that threaten to bankrupt state and local governments.
Editor: With respect to your advocacy efforts generally, is there an alignment of interests among small/medium-sized businesses and large global corporations?
Kirschner: There is a close alignment. Every business, no matter how large or small, cares about the impact of overregulation, high taxes, high energy costs and the overall cost of doing business in this state.
In our annual Business Outlook Survey of NJBIA members, the three problems that are consistently ranked as the most troublesome for all companies are the cost of employee health insurance coverage, the overall cost of doing business in New Jersey, and the cost of property taxes. High energy taxes have been another concern, especially with large energy users. There is very little difference between large and small companies on these issues.
We are partners in another survey conducted annually by Rutgers University. The findings of this C-Suite survey of CEOs closely mirrors the concerns and views of NJBIA members about doing business in this state. The good news from both surveys over the past few years is that businesses are feeling increasingly positive about the bipartisan efforts being made by the Christie Administration and the Legislature to make New Jersey a better place in which to do business.
Editor: Tell us about any recent or upcoming events.
Kirschner: We recently held the Association’s biggest event, the State Employer Legislative Committee Dinner, which is held every two years following the election primary. At the June 12 dinner we hosted the first post-primary meeting of Governor Chris Christie and his gubernatorial campaign opponent, Senator Barbara Buono. Christie and Buono presented their candidacies to nearly 500 business people.
We’re holding a July 24 business seminar on how best to get ready to comply with provisions of the federal healthcare reform law, including a coverage mandate, which will take effect January 1 of next year. At this same seminar, smaller companies will learn how to purchase employee coverage through the new state-based insurance exchanges. Our May 15 seminar on the same topic was an overwhelming success; 260 business people attended the event and were very happy with the information they received.
We are also holding a series of seminars on a topic of great interest to business: understanding the impact of specific labor laws and regulations on their operations. The second of this series, “Digging Deeper: Advanced Topics in Labor Laws & HR” will be held on Wednesday, July 31, at the Pines Manor in Edison. A full listing of our seminars and events can be found at www.njbia.org/events.
Editor: What are the benefits of NJBIA membership? Where can our readers find you?
Kirschner: It’s easy. You can find us and become a member at www.njbia.org.
The benefits of membership are many. As I’ve already noted, NJBIA is the state’s largest and most effective business advocate before the Legislature and state agencies. More than that, we provide our members with valuable information, especially when it comes to dealing with laws and regulations affecting their businesses. We communicate this information in a variety of ways – through our print and electronic newsletters and our website.
Members can also take advantage of our seminars, events, local meetings and policy committee meetings to network with their peers and meet with government and business leaders. If important new laws and regulations are pending, our members are the first to learn about them and how they will affect their businesses.
Finally, member companies and their employees are eligible to apply for insurance coverage with the NJM Insurance Group, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Employees are eligible to apply for personal auto and homeowner’s coverage. Employers are eligible to apply for workers’ compensation and commercial auto coverage.
The great thing about NJM is that it’s one of the best-run insurance companies in America, consistently appearing at the top of third-party rankings for service and cost control. They also return their profits to policyholders in the form of annual dividend checks. On average, when you factor in the dividends, NJM’s personal-auto policyholders pay about 20 percent less for coverage than other New Jersey policyholders covered by other insurance companies.
We believe you will find NJBIA to be a worthwhile investment. We invite your readers to visit www.njbia.org to learn more and become members.