Monday, May 20, 2013

NJ lawmakers struggling to find way to fund open space

open space - farmland

Residents of New Jersey, the nation's most densely populated state, have long supported public funding to preserve disappearing farmland and open space,but the money from previous bond issues has all been spent and,with the state budget under stress, just how to come up with more is a question of considerable debate.

Today, the state Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted to release two bills that would dedicate a portion of the state's sales tax (1/5th of each penny) for the purchases of land and preservation of historic properties.

Chairman Bob Smith explains the legislation in this sound clip:

Organizations representing municipalities (State League of Municipalities) and counties (NJ Association of Counties) testified in favor of the bills, as did the association representing the state's agriculture community (NJ Farm Bureau).

They were followed in their support by a long line of environmental and preservation organizations including:

  • Preservation New Jersey
  • NJ Recreation and Parks Association
  • Pinelands Preservation Alliance
  • Nature Conservancy
  • NJ Institute of Architects
  • NJ Highlands Coalition
  • NJ Conservation Foundation
  • Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust
  • Raritan Headwaters Association
  • Monmouth Conservation Foundation
  • NJ League of Conservation Voters
  • NJ Environmental Lobby
  • American Littoral Society
  • Trust for Public Land
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One notable dissenting voice was the Sierra Club's Jeff Tittle who protested Gov. Christie's "stealing" of a variety of environmental funds (Clean Energy Fund, environmental penalty settlements, etc.) for other budgetary programs. Tittle said he'd like to see a constitutional protection assuring that all environmental funds are used only for their intended purpose.

Senator Jennifer Beck, one of  the two Republican members of the committee cast the only no vote. Some of Beck's past votes presaged positions taken by the Christie Administration. Is this another?

The governor has been coy on the issue. Since his election almost four years ago, his spokespersons have maintained that Christie supports open space funding but that he has not yet decided on the best way to accomplish that goal.

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