"This legislation is virtually useless for many of our communities," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union). An affordable-housing requirement would make development "uneconomical and unaffordable for middle-class families," he said.
Despite his opposition, Lesniak recommended the bill's passage Monday, saying the Assembly sponsor - Albert Coutinho (D., Essex) - had refused to consider any new changes to the bill, which has been repeatedly revised by Assembly and Senate lawmakers and has grown from 47 to 82 pages since its introduction in January.
To "correct the flaws the Assembly refuses to correct," Lesniak said, he will introduce legislation to provide $200 million in incentives for redevelopment of affordable housing. He called state housing projects "ghettos" and "virtual prisons."
As for the affordable housing requirement in the bill, "we're going to have to rely on Gov. Christie to correct that wrong," Lesniak said.
Spokesmen for Christie did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Coutinho said Monday that he "doesn't necessarily disagree" with Lesniak's argument about the affordable-housing requirement. But that provision was "a small piece" of the bill, and the measure needed to move forward, Coutinho said.
The bill represents "the most comprehensive overhaul of state tax incentive programs in state history," Coutinho said. The proposal would streamline the state's five economic incentive programs into two, targeting job creation and development.
Unlike past state programs, which required a company to invest $20 million to receive credits, the bill would grant credits with as little as $1 million in investment, benefiting smaller businesses, Coutinho said.
The bill also would increase the ability of businesses in rural areas to receive incentives, though greater awards would be available for development in distressed areas, Coutinho said.
Environmental groups have sounded alarms over the bill, saying it will provide tax incentives for development in environmentally sensitive areas, including the Pinelands and Highlands.
"This bill is the great land rush of 2013," Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement.
While certain environmental measures were stripped from the bill by Senate lawmakers, protections were later added, Coutinho said.
"If you couldn't build on something before this bill, you would not have been allowed to build on it afterwards," he said.
Senate lawmakers had also amended the bill to add incentives for South Jersey. The bill sets a lower threshold for businesses in eight southern counties to qualify for tax credits, grants bonuses for each full-time job retained or created in certain municipalities in those counties, and specifies that $250 million of the $600 million in incentives slated for residential projects will go to the eight counties.
Lesniak said South Jersey has "a greater need" for new jobs than North Jersey.
In previous incentive programs, "virtually all the job creation has been in North Jersey," Lesniak said after the vote.
Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R., Monmouth), a cosponsor of the bill, said tax incentives were "essential to help compensate for the fact we live in a high-cost state."
"There's other places that are more competitive," he told the Senate. "We have to create more jobs here for our people."
Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @maddiehanna.