Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How to pay to preserve what open space land NJ has left

New Jerseyans love their open space, farmland and parks and it's no wonder. The Garden State is the nation's most densely populated and is expected to become the first state to reach "buildout," the point at which no available open space is left.   

Voters have supported every statewide bond issue ever proposed to fund the preservation of disappearing farms and forests but all the money borrowed over five decades has been spent and now it's not clear what the next source of funding will be.  

Additional borrowing by a state that's running a big budget defect is politically unpopular, and no lawmaker (not even most Democrats) wants to be caught uttering the profane "T" word  (Shhh. It's 'taxes' but keep it on the down-low)   

Can the state continue to fund preservation or does it throw in the towel and resign itself to devolving into the land of wall-to-wall highways, condos, Walmarts and Chuck E Cheese's?

The Senate Environment and Energy yesterday took up the issue by exploring three options:
1  A fee on water use 
(notice we didn't use the T word)
2. Another bond issue, or
3. A dedicated portion of the state sales tax.

New Jersey Spotlight covered the hearing and concluded that "a consensus appears to be emerging to dedicate $200 million a year in state sales tax revenue to preserve open space and farmland."
Whether that idea flies with the Christie administration and Democratic-controlled Legislature remains to be seen, but the proposal was by far the most heavily endorsed of three options floated yesterday at a Senate Environment and Energy Committee hearing on how to finance an essentially broke open-space and farmland preservation program.
 “It’s our job to put this issue on the table,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the committee and sponsor of three different bills to continue open-space and farmland preservation efforts. None of the three bills on the committee’s agenda were acted on, but Smith said he hopes the issue comes front and center in this fall’s gubernatorial election.
While NJ Keep It Green, a 175-member coalition of environmental and other organizations, testified in favor of the sales tax dedication, two green organizations--NJ Environmental Federation and the Sierra Club-- demurred.

Check out the links below for full coverage of the meeting.

After the hearing, EnviroPolitics caught up with Kelly Mooij, spokesperson for Keep It Green.Click the arrow in the photo at the top of this post to hear a portion of what she had to say on the issue. NOTE: The full interview will be part of our next EnviroPolitics Podcast later this week. We'll notify you here when the episode is available. You also can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.   

Here are three news stories on the committee hearing:

Scheme to dedicate sales tax revenue to preserve open land seems to be early favorite

Most environmental groups prefer sales tax to fund open space preservation

Open space may be put to New.Jersey voters 

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