GOP lawmaker criticizes administration’s $82M ‘free gift’ to Philadelphia 76ers

TRENTON – A Republican state senator lashed out Tuesday against Gov. Chris Christie for what he called an $82 million “free gift from the hard-pressed taxpayers of New Jersey” to the wealthy owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

Sen. Mike Doherty criticized the Republican governor’s decision to laud the announcement earlier this week of the 76ers to build a new $82 million practice facility in Camden. Doherty says the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s unanimous decision to approve a tax credit for the construction of the facility amounts to a “free gift.”

“Governor Christie states that we have an $800 million budget shortfall. Then why is New Jersey providing an $82 million gift for a billionaire?” Doherty asked in a statement released today, referring to the team’s owner, Joshua Harris.

“Local governments are being forced to cut to the bone,” he said. “Why are we opening up the money spigot to take care of a billionaire? How can New Jersey not make this year’s full pension payment, but the state government can find an extra $82 million for a basketball practice facility?”

Doherty issued the statement shortly after the EDA approved the tax credit for the project, and a day after Christie announced the construction of the facility during a trip to Camden.

The left-leaning New Jersey Policy Perspective agreed with Doherty in its own statement opposing the deal.

“In return for the team’s agreement to build a practice facility in Camden and shift 250 jobs across the Delaware River, New Jersey will match the team’s investment dollar for dollar, giving up $82 million in tax revenue over a decade in the process – despite the fact that the team is worth $469 million and hardly needs a tax break to build a facility,” said NJPP in a statement.

However, local Statehouse representatives for the area lauded the deal as part of an “ongoing mission to address the three crucial aspects of the city’s revitalization: public safety, education and economic growth,” said state Sen. Donald Norcross, a Democrat who’s running to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) in Congress.

“The recently announced plans for two supermarkets, significant investment in higher education and healthcare facilities and expanding businesses in the city are bringing the family-sustaining jobs that our residents need,” he said in a statement. “We expect more major announcements just like this one in the coming months and years as the Camden turn around takes root.”

"The governor still has to come to bat."
—Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, on Atlantic City.