|New Jersey State Senator Bob Smith|
It's become an annual tradition for Trenton to raid the state's Clean Energy Fund and Gov. Chris Christie's budget plan this year marks something of a milestone.
The governor wants to siphon $154.7 million from the fund and reallocate it for the general fund to make up for any shortfalls in other areas. If the Legislature approves the request as part of the overall budget, the total amount pulled from the fund since 2008 would be roughly $1.5 billion, according to figures provided by the Treasury Department and the Office of Legislative Services.
The money, which since 1999 has been collected from the societal benefits charge on state utility bills, is meant to be used for clean energy investments and energy efficiency. Instead, more than a third of the approximately $360 million collected each year from the charge is used to pay for utility bills for the state and for salaries at the Department of Environmental Protection.
Former Gov. Jon Corzine began raiding the Clean Energy Fund and Christie has continued the practice. The Legislature has acceded, however much lawmakers have objected.
This year's proposed diversions would include $20 million for park maintenance or salaries at the DEP; $82.1 million for NJ Transit utility bills and $52.5 million for state utility bills.
But Sen. Bob Smith, chairman of his chamber's Committee on Environment and Energy, wants to end the practice. He said he plans to introduce a measure within a month that would require a constitutional amendment to protect the fund and ensure that the money is used for purposes for which it was intended.
State government is a crack cocaine addict on societal benefits charges," Smith, a Middlesex County Democrat, said in an interview. "This would give a five-year period when state government is weened off the societal benefits money."
To pass a constitutional amendment, the measure would have to be approved by 60 percent of the Legislature, or by a simple majority in both houses in two different years. It would then have to be approved by voters during the next election
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