HOPATCONG, NJ – State Senator Anthony Bucco (R-25), denied he pulled a bill to fund weed control on Lake Hopatcong from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee because of a statement by Governor Christopher Christie.
“The Democrats are trying to say that,” Bucco said in a telephone interview.
He said he pulled the bill, because he felt he could not get enough votes to get it passed and he did not want to have to start all over again. This way, “it’s sitting in Appropriations as a held bill.”
Bucco asked Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36), the committee chairman, to bring up the bill two days before Christie threatened to veto any bill supporting supplemental spending unless the legislature passes a tax cut proposal he submitted.
Bucco said S-495 does not fit that profile, because weed control would be funded through a $4 surcharge on the registration of boats for use in non-tidal waters.
He said if the bill went through both the Senate and Assembly, and reached the Governor, he would be glad to sit down with Christie and talk with him about it.
“I’d be willing to speak to the Governor and Treasurer about finding another $150,000 to cut if they wanted to. There’s no guarantee he’d sign the bill or even talk to me,” he said.
He noted the economy could improve between now, and when the bill got through, so it could be a moot point.
Although the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club only reluctantly supported S495, Executive Director Jeff Tittel is not happy it was pulled.
Tittel said, “Christie threatened any spending bill. The Democrats held up this one because it benefits a Republican area. It’s not like they are looking at the merits of the bill.”
Bucco said he does not know if some Democrats oppose the bill, because it benefits a predominantly Republican area. He pointed out both Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3), and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31), are co-sponsors.
“I pointed out to Senator Cunningham, who represents Jersey City and Bayonne, that her residents use the lake for recreation,” Bucco said.
People who cannot afford a trip to the shore can easily afford a day at the Hopatcong State Park, he noted.
He also pointed out the lake is a secondary reservoir for Jersey City, and has been used that way in times of drought. The pipeline from the lake to Jersey City is still intact, he said.
The Sierra Club enthusiastically supported the original lake maintenance bill, which provided $400,000 for maintenance of the two lakes, Tittel said.
Bucco said he cut the amount in the bill, because the State Department of Environmental Protection is already spending $125,000 on weed control and equipment maintenance. He said he believes the DEP should continue to maintain weed harvesting equipment.
The Sierra Club enthusiastically supported the original $400,000 lake maintenance bill, Tittel said.
Regardless of the reason the bill was pulled, “people around the lake suffer,” he said.
The Lake Hopatcong Commission owns a fleet of harvesters, which keep the milfoil and other shore weeds in check through the summer. They are particularly useful in the many coves, where the shallow water encourages weed growth. The lakes received federal funds for pollution control which also dried up. The Commission’s funding ends December 31, 2012.
Tittel also said curtailing lake maintenance, in addition to causing environmental problems, would hurt tourism and damage property values. Bucco said tourism is a boon not only to the lake area, but to the state as a whole because of gasoline and other sales taxes.
A companion Assembly bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Allison McHose (R-24), and Assemblyman Gary Chiusano (R-24), is in the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.
Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37), suggested the lake maintenance bill be part of a larger spending package lawmakers can work on together.
Tittel characterized the Governor’s comments about vetoing spending bills as holding the litigation hostage.
He said attempts to fund lake maintenance have been before the legislature for 10 years.
“We’re going from summer to summer with weed control. We need an overall plan to manage stormwater runoff and septics on the lake," Tittel said. "Harvesting weeds is just going after the result of the pollution, not going after the pollution itself. We need more than this bill.”
When Bucco opposed additional fees for people using the lakes for recreation, the Sierra Club objected to that opposition, Tittel said.