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At Atlantic City sneaker store for small-biz week, Murphy defends upcoming unemployment tax hike

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ATLANTIC CITY — Sneaker collectors are a diverse group, and the owners of Swapz AC have no trouble finding people interested in the collectibles they sell, or those wanting to buy 10-year-old Nikes for hundreds to thousands of dollars, store co-owner Ed Wilson said Tuesday.

Wilson, 35, and three co-owners gave Gov. Phil Murphy and Mayor Marty Small Sr. a tour of their store Tuesday for National Small Business Week. Small described Swapz AC as the first locally owned minority business at Tanger Outlets The Walk.

Although they had to close their store during part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the owners told Murphy that once they reopened business was good.

Small businesses in New Jersey were hit hard by the pandemic, Murphy said, but he stressed the state has provided more direct aid to them than any other state but California and New York.

That’s one reason he has decided not to use some of the state’s $6.2 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to replenish the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund, he said. Instead, an increase in the unemployment tax on businesses will hit next month.

“I’m not closing the door on anything,” Murphy said. “I want to get the biggest bang for the buck.”

More than 70,000 businesses in the state have received some type of COVID aid so far, Murphy said.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association and many lawmakers have opposed the unemployment tax increase on employers, saying it is another badly timed hit to job creators as they try to recover from pandemic losses.

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, has been calling on the governor to prevent the tax increase from taking effect by using federal funds to replenish the trust fund.

“Michael and I have talked, and they are all fair points,” Murphy said of Testa’s arguments for using ARP funds.

Murphy was in South Jersey for campaign appearances. He was due to stop in Galloway Township and Monmouth County later in the day, he said.

The Legislature has “signed bipartisan legislation that has already smoothed out” the tax increase, Murphy said. The legislation phases in the increase of almost $940 million over three years.

Every Republican in the state Legislature has signed a petition to convene a special legislative session to prevent an upcoming payroll tax increase on employers, repay debt and restore stability to the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund, Testa said Monday.

But no Democrat has signed it.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Testa, a member of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.

He called it a missed opportunity to work in a bipartisan manner, and said only seven Democrats were needed in the Senate and 13 in the Assembly to provide the majority needed to force Murphy to call a special session.

The unemployment fund’s deficit has more than tripled over the past month to $235 million, Testa said, with borrowed federal funds accruing interest as of Sept. 6.

Other states, including Nevada and Ohio, repaid their federal unemployment loans in full by Sept. 6 using money they received through ARP to avoid unnecessary interest charges, Testa said.

Swapz AC has been at The Walk for more than two years, Wilson said, and in the city for six years.

“Marty, this is like heaven,” Murphy said after examining some of the stock. “I don’t collect (sneakers), but one of my sons used to. Not as much these days, but he’ll be down here in a fast minute if he sees pictures.”

Store workers Ja’Heem Frederick and Chris Lopez, both 18 and recent Atlantic City High School graduates, talked to Murphy about basketball — Murphy only played for fun, not competitively.

“I probably should have taken more advantage of my height,” said the governor, who is more than 6 feet tall.

Small, a standout basketball player at Atlantic City High School and Stockton University, is a sneaker collector, he said.

“I’m a Jordan guy,” Small said of the Nike sneaker. Retro Jordans are his favorites, he said, which are recreations of “the ones he actually played in.”

REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post


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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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