SOUTH AMBOY – Abandoned factories and weeds once dominated a section of South Amboy now home to a YMCA, housing and rehabilitation center, and Gov. Phil Murphy visited it Monday to pitch similar efforts as part of his economic plan.

Murphy’s economic plan includes $20 million a year for brownfields projects, capped at $4 million per project. It’s part of an overall $400 million a year proposal still being hashed out in negotiations with lawmakers.

“I’m not necessarily married to that specific number, but I think the notion of a cap and capping per project so you ensure that you don’t get – you just don’t hit home runs, you hit lots of singles and doubles,” said Murphy, who said the goal is to get more funds to smaller projects than in the past.

The state’s current tax incentive programs expire in June. Murphy has been critical of their size and focus though says more targeted tax credits are important.

Murphy has been making occasional stops around the state to talk up his economic plan, and it’s probably not coincidental this visit was to the childhood hometown of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, a key figure in any legislative negotiations.

Coughlin didn’t commit to supporting Gov. Phil Murphy’s economic plan, but he endorsed a focus on brownfields redevelopment.

“It’s no secret that our state’s industrial past has made many waterfront properties underutilized. And it’s important that we do what we can to get these properties back on the tax rolls to use as open space and other development,” said Coughlin, who said he’s confident a comprehensive tax incentive program will be approved before the current system expires.

The state’s current brownfields program received around $15 million in the current budget. Murphy’s economic plan replaces it with $20 million a year in competitive grant opportunities.

Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe said every acre of brownfields redevelopment saves an average of 5 acres of open space, among other benefits.

“It improves water quality by reducing the stormwater runoff because we do a good job of installing the new controls, unlike what we did a hundred years ago when we were first founding this place,” McCabe said.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-Long Branch, attended the news conference at the YMCA. He credited former Gov. Christie Whitman for getting the federal government to begin brownfields programs while she ran the Environmental Protection Agency.

“And you know, brownfields is not just an environmental program. It’s a job creation, it’s an infrastructure program,” Pallone said.

The Trump administration on Monday proposed cutting federal brownfields spending by around 28 percent, a drop of $43 million to $110.5 million.

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